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Watson v. State (5/19/2017) ap-2553

Watson v. State (5/19/2017) ap-2553

                                                     NOTICE
  

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         Pacific Reporter.  Readers are encouraged to bring typographical or other formal  

         errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts:  



                                  303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska  99501
  

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                IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ALASKA  



ELIZABETH WATSON,  

                                                                    Court of Appeals No. A-11592  

                                    Appellant,                    Trial Court No. 4BE-11-1326 CR  



                           v.  

                                                                               O P I N I O N  

STATE OF ALASKA,  



                                    Appellee.                         No. 2553 - May 19, 2017  



                  Appeal from the District Court, Fourth Judicial District, Bethel,  

                                    

                  Dennis  P.  Cummings,  Judge,  and  Bruce  Ward,  Magistrate  

                  Judge.  



                  Appearances:  Kelly R. Taylor, Assistant Public Defender, and  

                                              

                  Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.  

                                                                                      

                  Donald  Soderstrom,  Assistant  Attorney  General,  Office  of  

                                                                         

                  Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney  

                  General, Juneau, for the Appellee.  



                  Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Suddock,  

                                                       

                                               *  

                  Superior Court Judge.   



                  Judge SUDDOCK.  



     *   Sitting  by   assignment  made  pursuant  to  Article  IV,  Section  16  of   the  Alaska  



Constitution and Administrative Rule 24(d).  


----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

                      Elizabeth Watson was charged with driving under the influence (DUI)                                             



                                                      1  

when she was fourteen years old.                                                                                                         

                                                        Pursuant to AS 47.12.030(b), she was tried as an adult  



                                                                                                                      

and convicted in the district court.  In this appeal, Watson argues that the legislature's  



                                                                                                                                       

decision to uniformly prosecute minors as adults when they commit misdemeanor traffic  



                                                                                                                                      

offenses violates a minor's right to equal protection and to due process of law.  



                                                                                                                                   

                      Because a minor has a limited interest in being prosecuted in the juvenile  



                                                                                                                             

court system, and because driving is a heavily regulated dangerous adult activity, we  



                                                                                                                                            

conclude that the legislature can validly require that minors be prosecuted as adults for  



                                                     

misdemeanor traffic offenses.  



                                                                                     

            Watson's equal protection and due process claims  



                      Under subsection (b) of AS 47.12.030, a minor who is accused of a non- 



                                                                                                                     

felony traffic offense "shall be charged, prosecuted, and sentenced in the district court  



                                                        

in the same manner as an adult."  



                                                                                                                                              

                      Watson argues that minors who commit traffic offenses are presumably as  



                                                                                                                                                  

amenable  to  rehabilitation  as  are  juveniles  who  commit  non-traffic  misdemeanors.  



                                                                                                                                      

Watson notes that if she had committed a more serious crime such as a non-traffic felony,  



                                                                                                                                           

she might well have been prosecuted as a juvenile.   Thus, according to Watson, the  



                                                                                                                                              

legislature  violated  the  equal  protection  clause  of  the  Alaska  Constitution  when  it  



                                                                                                                                  2  

                                                                                                                                     

required that minors be prosecuted as adults for misdemeanor traffic offenses. 



                                                                                                                                

                      We analyze Watson's equal protection claim under Alaska's three-part  



                                                                                                                                          

"sliding-scale" test.  We first determine the importance of the individual interest that  



                                                                                                                              

Watson claims has been impaired by the legislature.  We next examine the importance  



      1    AS 28.35.030(a)(1), (2).  



      2    Alaska Const. Art. I,  1.  



                                                                    - 2 -                                                                2553
  


----------------------- Page 3-----------------------

of the asserted government interest protected by the challenged statute.                                                   And finally, we        



 evaluatethestatute's                effectiveness in implementing this underlying                                 interest -its means-      

to-end fit.       3  



                                                    4  

                                                                                                                                    

                                                      we rejected an equal protection challenge to subsection  

                       In Gray v. State, 



                                                                                                                                           

 (a) of AS 47.12.030, which mandates adult prosecution for minors charged with certain  



                                                                                                                                                     

 serious felonies.  Regarding the first step of the three-part analysis - i.e., identifying a  



                                                                                                                                                

minor's interest in being prosecuted as a juvenile rather than as an adult - we held that  



                                                                                                                                 5  

                                                                                                                                                    

juveniles  have  "no  constitutional  right  to  be  tried  in  a  juvenile  court."                                                  Rather,  a  



                                                                                                                                      

juvenile's interest in avoiding prosecution as an adult implicates only "the relatively  



                                                                                                                                                     6  

                                                                                                                                      

narrow interest of a convicted offender in minimizing the punishment for an offense." 



                                                                                                                                                

Thus, we concluded, the challenged statute would be constitutional as long as it was  



                                                                                     7  

                                                                       

 supported by a legitimate governmental purpose. 



                                                                                                                                         

                       Watson argues that our decision in  Gray is not determinative, because  



                                                                                                                                      

minors who commit traffic offenses (as opposed to serious felonies) have a weightier  



                                                                                                                                                

interest in being prosecuted as juveniles - i.e., being prosecuted under a system that  



                                                                                                                                                

 emphasizes the individual rehabilitation of offenders. Watson contends that minors who  



                                                                                                                                

commit misdemeanor traffic offenses are presumably just as amenable to rehabilitative  



                                                                                                                                                   

treatment as the minors who commit other types of crimes and who are subject to  



                                                                                                                                     

juvenile  jurisdiction.                 According  to  Watson,  the  legislature's  decision  to  prosecute  



      3     See  Gray v. State, 267 P.3d 667, 672 (Alaska App. 2011); Williams v. State, 151 P.3d  



460, 464 (Alaska App. 2006).  



      4     267 P.3d 667 (Alaska App. 2011).  



      5     Id. at 672 (quoting  W.M.F. v. State,  723 P.2d 1298, 1300 (Alaska App. 1986)).  



      6     Id. (quoting State v. Ladd, 951 P.2d 1220, 1224 (Alaska App. 1998)).  



      7  

                   

            Id.  



                                                                       - 3 -                                                                  2553
  


----------------------- Page 4-----------------------

 juvenile traffic offenders as adults is "uniquely harsh" and merits more than minimal                                                                                 



 scrutiny.  



                             But rehabilitation of minors convicted of traffic offenses is not the sole                                                                         



 governmental interest at stake.                                     The legislature has a strong and legitimate interest in                                       



 "establishing penalties for criminal offenders and in determining how those penalties                                                                                



                                                                                                                                           8  

 should be applied to various classes of convicted [defendants]."                                                                                                         

                                                                                                                                               Driving is a highly  



                                                                                                                                                                                

 regulated  and  substantially  dangerous  adult  activity.                                                               Minors  are  presumably  less  



                                                                                                                                                                                

 experienced than other drivers, and the legislature could rationally conclude that they  



                                                                                                                                                                                  

 pose a particularly significant threat to their own and the public's safety.   Thus, the  



                                                                                                                                                                                    

 legislature has a legitimate and weighty interest in assuring that minors who drive be  



                                                                                                                                                         

 held to an adult standard of care, and that they be held accountable for traffic offenses  



                                                               9  

                                                                   

                                                  

 in the same fashion as adults. 



                                                                                                                                                                        

                             We perceive no particular anomaly in the fact that minors who commit  



                                                                                                                                                                                  

felony  driving offenses are presumptively treated as juveniles.   Felony offenders are  



                                                                                                                                                                         

 subject to significantly increased amounts of imprisonment, as well as various lifetime  



                                     10  

             

 legal disabilities.                                                                                                                                                           

                                          The legislature could validly decide that minors should not face such  



                                                                                                                                                                                    

 severe consequences for their actions, even when the felony arises from the act of  



                     

 driving.  



                                                                                                                                                                 

                             "Indecidingwhichminorsshould receivejuveniledelinquencydispositions  



                                                                                                                                                                                

 for criminal acts, the legislature can draw distinctions between different groups so long  



        8      267 P.3d at 673 (quoting Anderson v. State , 904 P.2d 433, 436 (Alaska App. 1995)).  



        9      See Ardinger v. Hummel, 982 P.2d 727, 731 (Alaska 1999) (holding that minor drivers  



 must be held to an adult standard of care for public safety reasons).  



        10     See AS 12.55.125.  



                                                                                        - 4 -                                                                                  2553
  


----------------------- Page 5-----------------------

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               11  

as those distinctions are not arbitrary or based on a discriminatory classification."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   We  



concludethat theclassificationdrawnbyAS47.12.030(b) -theprovision                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         that mandates   



adult prosecution for minors who commit non-felonious traffic offenses - is neither                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     



arbitrary nor discriminatory.                                                                                                            



                                                               We also reject Watson's due process claim - her claim that the district                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



court should have held a hearing at which Watson could attempt to prove that she was                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             



amenable to treatment under the juvenile justice system.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Watson's due process claim                                                                                     



hinges on her underlying claim that the legislature acted unconstitutionally when it                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              



prescribed adult prosecution for all minors who commit misdemeanor traffic offenses.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         



We have just rejected that underlying claim. We therefore reject Watson's assertion that                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 



 she   was   constitutionally   entitled   to   an   evidentiary   hearing   on   her   amenability   to  



rehabilitation within the juvenile justice system.                                                                                                                                              



                                 Conclusion  



                                                               We AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                 11             State v. Ladd, 951 P.2d 1220, 1225 (Alaska App. 1998).  



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