Washington Court of Appeals Grants Petition from Defendant Claiming Mitigating Factors of Youth Ignored at Trial

Above: Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3 — Image Source: Ncwlife.com

On December 31, 2020, a Washington Court of Appeals granted Eduardo Chavez’s petition challenging his rape conviction and sentence and remanded for further proceedings, agreeing with Chavez that the trial court had failed to consider the mitigating factors of his youth at the time of the offense.

Shortly before Chavez turned 17 years old, he “was alleged to have had sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl while she was unconscious due to intoxication.” He later claimed it was consensual.

Because Chavez had previously been charged and tried in adult court for an earlier offense, the rape charge was filed directly in adult court without a “decline hearing,” which would have determined if it was appropriate to try Chavez as an adult. At trial, Chavez was convicted of second-degree rape.

During sentencing, the prosecution noted that Chavez had been a victim of sexual assault as a child and had never received counseling. The prosecution stated that it “deplored asking the court ‘to sentence a 17-year-old boy to a significant amount of time in prison and possibly for the rest of his life.’” He was sentenced to a midrange sentence within the standard sentencing range.

Chavez petitioned for relief from his conviction and sentence. He first asserted that the adult court in which he was tried lacked the authority to do so because there was no decline hearing. The appeals court agreed, noting that although there had been a decline hearing for a previous offense, Chavez had been acquitted of that prior offense, and a decline hearing was required in order for any new offenses to be tried in adult court.

Chavez also argued that should his conviction stand, he should be resentenced, because “the trial court failed to consider mitigating factors regarding his youth.”

The appellate court agreed with this claim as well, citing State v. Houston-Sconiers, 188 Wn.2d 1, 391 P.3d 409 (2017), which states that courts “must consider mitigating qualities of youth at sentencing” and have discretion to apply sentences lower than the sentencing range. The appellate court also found that the trial court “did not address the issues related to juvenile brain science and development.”

Accordingly, the appellate court granted Chavez’s petition and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with these findings.

Key words: Washington, adolescent brain, youth

Citation: Matter of Chavez, 2020 WL 7861218

This post is the 47th post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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