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

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


         The text of this opinion can be corrected before the opinion is published in the  

         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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                                                                    Court of Appeals No. A-11592  

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


                                                                               O P I N I O N  


                                    Appellee.                         No. 2553 - May 19, 2017  

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


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


                  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)                                             


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  



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  



                                                      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  



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  



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  



 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)).  




                                                                       - 3 -                                                                  2553

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

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


                             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                                                                                


 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  




 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  



 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  




                             "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-----------------------


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.                                                                                                                                              


                                                               We AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.  


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

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