UTAH’S AUTOMATIC WAIVER STATUTE AND DISCRETION TO DEPRIVE TEENS OF LIFE AND LIBERTY

Abstract

On August 30, 2010, sixteen-year-old Jonatan Bustos stabbed fifteen-year-old Taylor Pankow twice, once in the abdomen and once in the chest. As Bustos ran away from the scene, Pankow bled to death outside a Family Dollar in West Valley City, Utah. The altercation stemmed from the teens' recent, ongoing dispute over an iPod. According to Bustos' mother, Bustos had a confrontation with Pankow three days before August 30th and Bustos "decided to carry a knife for protection." Despite evidence suggesting Bustos feared for his safety and did not instigate the altercation, prosecutors chose to charge him with murder, a first-degree felony. Because of the murder charge, Bustos was automatically subject to adult court jurisdiction. As an undocumented minor charged with an "aggravated felony," Bustos could therefore become subject to deportation. If prosecutors had charged Bustos with manslaughter, he would be tried in juvenile court and not face deportation. Complicating the case, self-defense is an affirmative defense to murder in Utah, which reduces a conviction to manslaughter, creating overlapping jurisdiction for juvenile and adult courts in manslaughter prosecutions. Bustos's trial will follow the Utah Supreme Court's recent ruling in State v. Angilau. The Angilau court upheld the constitutionality of Utah's amended "automatic waiver" statute which allows sixteen and seventeen-year-olds charged with certain felonies to be tried as adults. Specifically, the court held that "[a] juvenile has no right to treatment in the juvenile system" and that the problems with prosecutorial discretion that pervaded the previous waiver statute were no longer at issue. Despite this recent precedent, the Bustos case presents unique challenges for Utah law specific to juvenile treatment in the adult system. Namely, the Bustos case supports the assertion that the only effective safeguard for juveniles against abuse of discretion is to provide juveniles with a transfer hearing, thereby requiring prosecutors to justify treatment in the adult system. Part I outlines the history of Utah's automatic waiver statute through State v. Angilau. Part II analyzes the legal and policy contradictions between the Utah criminal code as it applies to adults, and how it applies to juveniles via the waiver statute. Part III examines prosecutorial discretion under the waiver statute and whether it was abused as applied to Jonatan Bustos. Lastly, Part IV suggests modifications to the Utah juvenile statutory scheme, which will cure problems with prosecutorial discretion and better serve the purposes of Utah's Juvenile Court Act, namely, "public safety, appropriate sanctions, and individual accountability."
How to Cite
. UTAH’S AUTOMATIC WAIVER STATUTE AND DISCRETION TO DEPRIVE TEENS OF LIFE AND LIBERTY. Journal of Law and Family Studies, [S.l.], v. 13, n. 2, sep. 2011. Available at: <http://epubs.utah.edu/index.php/jlfs/article/view/559>. Date accessed: 25 nov. 2017.
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