Communist States Aren’t the Only Ones Denying Jury Trials

In Washington, juveniles have no right to one.

Azel Chavez was 14 when he was picked up in Clallam County for attempted murder, wrongful firearm possession, boosting a car, and a host of accompanying charges in November 2004. Leading up to this run-in, he had quit the Sequim High School football team after several altercations, and told a couple of friends he wanted to kill the coaches. According to court documents, Chavez then took his father's 12-gauge shotgun, stole his stepmother's van at gunpoint, and drove to the high school. The team had left for a game in Tacoma. His mother called the police. When state prosecutors decided the crime didn't warrant adult-level felony charges, Chavez was tried as a juvenile, which means potentially less severe sentences but no jury. Chavez appealed his conviction (he was sentenced to a minimum of seven years), arguing that he would prefer a jury of his peers determine his fate. Last week, in response, the state Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that juveniles have no constitutional right to a jury trial. The ruling was based in part on the idea that meting out justice to youth is "focused on rehabilitation," writes majority author Justice Charles Johnson. Justice Barbara Madsen disagreed, writing for the dissent: "There is no fundamental incompatibility between a rehabilitative juvenile justice system that nevertheless has many of the hallmarks of the adult system and a juvenile justice system that includes the right to the protection of a jury of one's peers."

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