State v. Watkins

When Tyler Watkins was sixteen years old, he was charged with first-degree burglary. Solely due to his age and the offense he was charged with, the prosecutor automatically transferred him from juvenile to adult court under Washington’s automatic decline statute causing him to lose all of the protections of the juvenile justice system and exposing him to the harsher penalties and collateral consequences of a criminal justice system designed for adults. Mr. Watkins appealed to the Washington Court of Appeals and filed a motion to transfer the case directly to the Washington Supreme Court.

Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief with Teamchild in support of Mr. Watkins’ motion arguing that Mr. Watkins’ right to due process was violated when he was transferred to the adult criminal justice system without a hearing or other procedural protections. Our brief further argued that Washington’s automatic decline statute undermines United States and Washington Supreme Court precedent articulating that youth are fundamentally different from adults and cannot be mandatorily treated as adults.

The Washington Supreme Court granted the motion to transfer.

Juvenile Law Center along with American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and other advocacy organizations filed an amicus brief in the Washington Supreme Court urging the Court to strike down Washington’s automatic decline statute as unconstitutional under both the state and federal constitutions.

In a 6-3 decision, the Washington Supreme Court held that Washington's "automatic decline [statute] does not violate due process because juveniles do not have a constitutional right to be tried in juvenile court." However, the dissenting opinion underscores that youth should not be automatically tried as adults. "It is the status of being a juvenile, and not the specific offending behavior at issue, that triggers differing protections for youth [than adults]. Auto-decline statutes, however, require certain accused juvenile offenders to be treated as adults based on their alleged crimes, without any opportunity for a discretionary judicial determination that the particular juvenile at issue should, in fact, be treated as an adult. Juveniles have a right not to be automatically treated as adults. This requires a juvenile court to conduct a hearing at which it considers the individual juvenile who has been charged with a particular offense in order to determine whether adult criminal court is the right place for that person."