We joined with the Southern Poverty Law Center in submitting an amicus curiae brief in support of Dequez White’s petition for mandamus.

Alabama’s youthful offender statute, Ala. Code §§ 15-19-1-7, provides enhanced protections for juveniles tried in the adult criminal justice system. Dequez White is one such juvenile. Young people under the age of 21 are subject to the youthful offender statute regardless of their age or how they enter into adult court jurisdiction. That is, the statute applies regardless of whether a young person is over the age of 18 and always subject to adult court jurisdiction, age 16 or 17 and charged with a crime that renders him or her subject to adult court jurisdiction pursuant to Ala. Code § 12-15-204 (“Direct File Statute”), or, like Mr. White, 14 or older and transferred from juvenile court jurisdiction to adult court jurisdiction pursuant to Ala. Code § 12-15-203 (“Transfer Statute”). 

The two statutes that subject juveniles under the age of eighteen to adult court jurisdiction, the Direct File and Transfer Statutes, are clear. While both statutes mandate, in nearly identical language, that the juvenile be tried as an adult, neither restricts eligibility for youthful offender status. In fact, the Transfer Statute contemplates youthful offender status as a possible outcome for juveniles subject to its terms. Ala. Code § 12-15-203(i). The legislative history of the Alabama’s Juvenile Justice Act of 2008 affirms the plain reading of the statutory text: that all juveniles subject to the terms of the Transfer Statute are eligible to be considered for youthful offender status.

The Mobile Circuit Court’s interpretation that the Transfer Statute prohibits eligibility for youthful offender status for Mr. White and all juveniles subject to its terms. We argue that such interpretation ignores both plain text and legislative intent and creates an illogical and unfair statutory scheme. We assert that the appeals’ court should grant the mandamus petition to clarify that a juvenile is eligible to be considered for youthful offender status regardless of the statutory basis for adult court jurisdiction.

While the court rejected the brief, it ultimately granted not only the hearing but also youthful offender status. According to the defense attorney, the judge’s change of heart was based, in part, on the amicus brief submitted by this coalition. The young man was sentenced as a youthful offender in September.

The case is closed.

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