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COA affirms waiver of juvenile into adult court

State v. T.G., 2021AP351, 6/23/21, District 2 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

The State filed a delinquency petition against T.G., then 15, for stealing a car and causing an accident that left two passengers seriously injured. The State also petitioned for waiver of jurisdiction. Reviewing the petition de novo, the court of appeals held that Count 1 had “prosecutive merit.” Further, the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion in waiving T.G. into adult court.

To decide whether to waive T.G. into adult court, the juvenile court first had to determine whether the delinquency petition had “prosecutive merit.” Wis. Stat. §938.18(4)(a).  T.G. argued that Count 1 did not. Count 1 alleged that T.G. drove or operated a vehicle without the owner’s consent contrary to  §943.23(3).

The parties disagreed over how the court of appeals should review the juvenile court’s decision on this point. The court of appeals sided with T.G.

Our supreme court has explained that it is “functionally similar to the determination of probable cause in the preliminary examination.” T.R.B. v. State, 109 Wis. 2d 179, 190, 325 N.W.2d 329 (1982). Accordingly, the court explained that in order to find prosecutive merit, a juvenile court must satisfy itself to “the degree of probable cause required to bind over an adult for criminal trial.” Id. at 192. “When reviewing a circuit court’s bindover decision, ‘we will examine the factual record ab initio and decide, as a matter of law, whether the evidence constitutes probable cause.’” State v. Anderson, 2005 WI 54, ¶26, 280 Wis. 2d 104, 695 N.W.2d 731 (citation omitted). Following this logic, our review of the juvenile court’s prosecutive merit decision is de novo, as it is when reviewing bindover determinations. See id. Opinion, ¶9.

Reviewing the record de novo, the court of appeals held that the juvenile court did not err in finding prosecutive merit to Count 1:

¶13 . . . The petition sets forth a “believable or plausible account” of T.G.’s commission of this offense. See id. Specifically, one of the passengers told officers at the scene that T.G. had been driving at the time of the accident; T.G. himself told officers that he had been driving at that time; the vehicle that T.G. was driving had a Texas registration and been reported stolen; and the vehicle’s owner told officers that he did not give T.G. or anyone else in the vehicle consent to drive it.

Having found the necessary prosecutive merit, the court of appeals then reviewed the juvenile court’s decision to waive T.G. into adult court for an erroneous exercise of discretion and affirmed it. According to the court of appeals, T.G. conceded that the juvenile court addressed all of the statutory factors for waiver set forth in §938.18(5).  He merely objected to the weight the juvenile court gave each factor. The court of appeals refused to reweight the evidence and affirmed the juvenile court’s decision. Opinion, ¶18 (citing Schorer v. Shorer, 177 Wis. 2d 387, 400, 501 N.W.2d 916 (Ct. App. 1993)).

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