Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Jan. 20

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.


United States v. Doe

When defendant Jane Doe was 17 years old, she allegedly orchestrated the murder of her two parents. After posturing a false pregnancy to her fifteen-year-old boyfriend and lamenting her parents’ opposition to their relationship, Doe asked her boyfriend and another friend to kill her parents. 

They quickly formulated a plan. While Doe hid in the bathroom of her parent’s house, the two boys snuck into the home, then beat and stabbed Doe’s mother multiple times. They buried the body in a crude grave and waited for Doe’s father. When he arrived, the boys clubbed and set him on fire. 

Doe’s father died of blunt force trauma and smoke and soot inhalation. Doe and the boys fled but were apprehended. Although Doe didn’t participate in the physical assaults, she was the author of the plan — the murders wouldn’t have occurred without her initiative. 

The facts of the crime are preceded by a neglected and dysfunctional childhood for Doe. According to the record, she was born into an unstable and impoverished household. For the first eight years of her life, Doe lived in approximately eight different residences. Her father was a violent alcoholic, and Doe said that she had been physically abused since she was 5 or 6 years old. 

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services received multiple referrals against Doe’s mother, alleging inadequate care of her children. When Doe was 9 years old, the department took Doe and her siblings into emergency custody because of concerns about child sexual abuse. Doe’s father’s parental rights were terminated. 

Doe lived in foster care from age 9 to 13, then returned to living with her parents. When Doe was 14, her father was convicted of sexual abuse of a child under 12 for abusing his daughter, Doe’s half-sister. After Doe turned 15, she lived alone in a dirty, cluttered residence across the street from her mother and father following his release. She wasn’t permitted to live with her father because of his conviction. While Doe’s parents provided her with food, electricity and water, her conditions were neglectful. She lacked supervision, discipline and moral guidance. 

After the crime, two experts assessed Doe. Both experts found that Doe had low intellectual ability and maturity for her age.

Doe was charged with juvenile information with two counts of murder under 18. Since she was an enrolled member of the Choctaw nation and the offenses occurred on the Choctaw Nation Reservation, criminal jurisdiction was in federal court. Because she was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime, the charges implicate the Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention Act. Under the act, juveniles may be prosecuted as adults if they are 15 and a half years old, they allegedly committed a felony crime of violence and the court determines adult prosecution would be in the interest of justice. 

The government filed a motion to transfer proceedings from juvenile court to adult court, which a magistrate judge considered and recommended. The district court reviewed the case, adopted the recommendation and granted the government’s motion to transfer Doe’s case.

Doe appealed the order. Doe argued it was unconstitutional to charge her with first-degree murder as an adult because, if convicted, no constitutional punishments existed, and the district court applied an incorrect legal standard and abused its discretion when applying the six transfer factors. 

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Timothy Tymkovich, Mary Beck Briscoe and Gregory Phillips ruled Doe’s constitutional challenge was unripe, and the district court didn’t abuse its discretion in applying the correct legal standard for juvenile transfer. The panel affirmed the district court’s ruling.

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