Juvenile Record Counts Under Three Strikes Law

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The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand California's practice of counting juvenile court convictions when applying the three strikes law to adult felons who are repeat offenders.

Late last month, the nation's highest court turned down a San Jose, Calif., man's appeal of a state Supreme Court ruling that upheld his 2005 gun possession sentence, which was doubled because of a juvenile conviction.

Under California's three strikes law, considered the harshest in the country, a second felony conviction leads to double the normal sentence, and a third felony conviction requires a mandatory minimum of 25 years to life.

Although most states that have three strikes laws do not consider a person's juvenile convictions when determining sentences for adult felons, California – which in 1994 became the first state to enact such a repeat- offender law – counts as a strike juvenile convictions of serious or violent crimes committed at the age of 16 or 17. In denying the writ for certiorari the Supreme Court did not make any statement about the case.

The attorney for appellant Vince Nguyen said the juvenile court conviction should not count as a strike, because many juveniles are encouraged to plead guilty in a court system that focuses on rehabilitation.

The California Supreme Court, in its 2009 ruling against Nguyen, said that Nguyen – who pleaded guilty in 2005 to the gun possession charge – could have asked for a jury trial and asked the jury to determine whether the earlier juvenile assault charge constituted a "strike."