Rules of Juvenile Procedure

URJP 09. Detention hearings; scheduling; hearing procedure. Amend. Specifies time for review of different types of pre-disposition orders.
URJP 25. Pleas. Amend. Modifies the findings needed to accept a plea.

Utah Courts

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  1. Paul Wake

    I have a couple of comments I’ll mention here online, rather than providing them directly to the rules committee at its next meeting, in the hope that by posting them here these two thoughts will stimulate a discussion of the proposed Rule 25 change among members of the bar who are not on the rules committee.
    First, “the minor understands the nature and elements” language should be changed to “the minor, or the minor’s parent or guardian on behalf of the minor, understands the nature and elements….” That may not be completely consistent with the dreadful K.M. decision, but it’s time the Supreme Court fixed that decision. Expecting kids to be as clued in as adults is nuts; if kids are capable of thinking as clearly as adults, we should just get rid of the juvenile justice system. We don’t do that because kids are kids, so we shouldn’t pretend that they have adult-level comprehension. If a kid doesn’t understand the law, it should be enough that a responsible and caring adult does. All the kid needs to know is that he did something wrong, and that the system is going to try to help him not do it again.
    Second, the rules committee’s originally drafted revision to Rule 25 had what is essentially Alford plea language, which the Supreme Court stripped out before sending the rest of the Rule 25 revision out for public comment. The originally proposed revision to Rule 25(c)(6) had said not just “that there is a factual basis for the plea” but added that “[a] factual basis is sufficient if it establishes that the charged offense was actually committed by the minor or, if the minor refuses or is otherwise unable to admit culpability, that the prosecution has, and the minor understands that the prosecution has, sufficient evidence to establish a substantial risk that the offense would be found true….” Some juvenile judges did not like the Alford plea language because they viewed it as going beyond what was required by K.M., and thought it made the juvenile system too much more like the criminal system. It is true that the Alford plea language was not required by K.M; I don’t know that anyone on the rules committee thought it was. Also, I am sympathetic to not further criminalizing the juvenile justice system. However, not everything in the Rule 25 revision was a response to the K.M. decision. Some, like the rights added to (c)(3), were simply improving a rule by putting in some language that probably should have been there all along. I believe that the Alford plea language in particular was put there not so much because anyone thought it was required by K.M., but because some judges in various areas of the state were so spooked by K.M. that they were refusing to accept Alford-type pleas. That’s a real problem, which the Alford language was designed to fix. In my opinion, it is not apparent to some judges in at least two different judicial districts that Alford pleas are acceptable post-K.M., and it seems as if this language would clarify that such pleas can be accepted. It would be good to hear from practitioners about whether there needs to be further discussion on this question.