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Juvie Priors as Strikes

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Among the cases denied certiorari yesterday was the California case of Nguyen v. California, 09-604. The California Supreme Court rejected an Apprendi-based attack on the use of a juvenile court adjudication as a "strike" for the purpose of the Three Strikes sentencing law when the defendant is subsequently convicted in adult court for another felony.

Bob Egelko has this story in the SF Chron, saying, "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld California judges' authority to count adult felons' convictions in juvenile court in determining whether to sentence them to life in prison under the state's 'three strikes' law."

Not quite. "Upheld" implies there is now a U.S. Supreme Court precedent to that effect. Denial of certiorari does not set a precedent binding on other courts. The denial does end the case for Nguyen, and it leaves the Cal. Supreme case as precedent binding on California courts, but it has no effect in the other 49 states.

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I am a strong supporter of Apprendi (I've bought the ticket to Apprendi-land.) But this issue seems a bit of a reach. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that the state can treat a prior criminal adjudication as res judicata, and that includes juvenile convictions. From a policy standpoint, that the state chose to give a juvenile a break by trying him as a juvenile shouldn't keep the state from using that adjudication if the now adult criminal didn't get the message.

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