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COA: Circuit court need not weigh all criteria equally when determining whether to waive juvenile into adult court.

State v. M.P., 2024AP32, 6/26/24, District II (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

COA affirms circuit court’s order waiving M.P. into adult court based on M.P.’s age and seriousness of the offense.

The State alleged in a delinquency petition that M.P., who was 16 at the time of the offense, went with his friends to another juvenile’s home – with whom there was a dispute – pointed a gun at the other juvenile and fired multiple shots.  No one was hit by the shots, but two bullets penetrated the house where multiple children between ages 2 and 15 were located.  M.P. was charged with first-degree recklessly endangering safety, endangering safety by reckless use of a firearm, possessing a dangerous weapon by a person under age 18, and pointing a firearm at another.  The Calumet County Circuit Court granted the State’s motion to waive M.P. into adult court because the seriousness of the offense and the short length of time before M.P. turned 18 outweighed any factors that favored keeping M.P. in juvenile court.

M.P. appealed from the interlocutory order waiving him into adult court, and argued that the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion when it found that the State proved by clear and convincing evidence that M.P. should be tried in adult court.  The court of appeals affirmed.

The court reviewed the five criteria to determine whether waiver into adult court is appropriate as established by Wis. Stat. § 938.18(5): 1) the juvenile’s personality and potential for responding to treatment; 2) the juvenile’s prior record; 3) the seriousness of the offense; 4) the adequacy of services available within the juvenile justice system to treat the juvenile and protect the public; and 5) the desirability of trial and disposition of the entire offense in one court if the juvenile was allegedly associated in the offense with persons charged in adult court.  The fifth factor did not apply, and M.P. conceded that the seriousness of the offense justified waiver.  But M.P. argued that the other factors did not warrant waiver, and that the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion by failing to properly explain why M.P.’s age favored waiver and concluding that the seriousness of the offense outweighed all of the other factors.  ¶ 15.

The court of appeals recognized that the weight it gives to the various factors is left to the circuit court’s discretion.  ¶ 22 (citing G.B.K. v. State (Ct. App. 1985)).  And “the analysis does not require a straight-up counting of factors – in other words, whether waiver is appropriate is not dependent solely on the number of factors that favor waiver versus the number of factors that do not.”  ¶ 22.  The court of appeals determined the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion when it prioritized the seriousness of the offense and the short time left for juvenile jurisdiction in its waiver analysis.  ¶ 23.

Regarding M.P.’s argument that the circuit court did not adequately explain why his age mattered in determining whether waiver was appropriate, the court of appeals observed that a “juvenile’s age will likely always matter in that as a juvenile approaches the age of eighteen, the less time the juvenile will remain within the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.”  ¶ 24.  Given that M.P. had one year and eight months before his 18th birthday at the time of the waiver hearing, “it was reasonable for the court to ultimately conclude that the time remaining before M.P. aged out of juvenile jurisdiction was insufficient to address his serious needs and the risks to the public.”  ¶ 24.

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