State v. Smagula, s. 7502

Decision Date29 August 1977
Docket NumberNos. 7502,7511 and 7683,s. 7502
Citation117 N.H. 663,377 A.2d 608
PartiesThe STATE of New Hampshire v. Peter J. SMAGULA, III, John T. Quinn, Michael L. Lawruk, Jr.
CourtNew Hampshire Supreme Court

David H. Souter, Atty. Gen., and Richard B. McNamara, Atty., Concord, for the State.

Michael R. Chamberlain, Manchester, by brief and orally, for defendant Smagula.

Woodbury & Rowe, Milford (David Woodbury, Milford, orally), for defendant Quinn.

Leonard, Prolman, Gall, Shapiro & Jordan and William J. Groff, Nashua, for defendant Lawruk.

DOUGLAS, Justice.

These appeals present the question whether RSA 169:21, which provides for the certification of cases involving certain juveniles to the superior court for trial, is unconstitutionally vague in that its lack of ascertainable standards deprives juvenile defendants of their rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions. For the reasons which follow below, we hold that RSA 169:21 as interpreted herein is constitutionally valid.

RSA 169:21 provides in relevant part:

"Transfers to Superior Court. All cases . . . in which the offense complained of constitutes a felony or would amount to a felony in the case of an adult, may, after investigation and consideration, before hearing, be certified to the superior court. Cases so certified may be disposed of by the superior court according to the laws of this state relating thereto without any limitations as to sentence or orders required by this chapter. . . ."

Out of the 4,510 delinquent children cases before the District and Municipal Courts last year, 63 were certified and transferred as adults in accordance with section 21. Sixteenth Report of Judicial Council of New Hampshire 83, 97 (1976). The three defendants herein were charged prior to their eighteenth birthdays with the commission of offenses which would have been felonies if committed by adults, and their cases were certified to the superior court pursuant to RSA 169:21. The exceptions of defendant Smagula were reserved and transferred by Flynn, J., Quinn by Perkins, J. and Lawruk by Goode, J. The defendants argue that the application of RSA 169:21 results in a denial of due process and equal protection in that the absence of ascertainable standards in the statute allows arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory decision making and leaves the juvenile without guidelines to enable him to effectively prepare for the proceedings. The defendants basically rely upon People v. Fields, 388 Mich. 66, 199 N.W.2d 217 (1972). Although in Fields a Michigan statute similar to RSA 169:21 was held unconstitutionally vague, the continuing authority of this case has been cast into question. See People v. Peters, 397 Mich. 360, 244 N.W.2d 898 (1976); see also Clemons v. State, 317 N.E.2d 859 (Ind.App.1974) (and citations therein).

It is a basic principle of statutory construction that a legislative enactment will be construed to avoid conflict with constitutional rights wherever reasonably possible. Sibson v. State, 110 N.H. 8, 259 A.2d 397 (1969); In re Poulin, 100 N.H. 458, 129 A.2d 672 (1957); C. Sands, 2A Sutherland Statutory Construction § 45.11 (1972). Although guidelines do not appear in a statute, a reviewing court may, by resort to judicial construction cure an otherwise unconstitutionally vague provision. Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569, 575-77, 61 S.Ct. 762, 85 L.Ed. 1049 (1941); Avard v. Dupuis, 376 F.Supp. 479 (D.N.H.1974); State v. Speck, 242 N.W.2d 287 (Iowa 1976). In prior decisions we have already defined the legislative purpose sought to be accomplished by the juvenile laws as being "not penal but protective(;) not that the child shall be punished for breach of law or regulation, but that he shall have a better chance to become a worthy citizen." In re Perham, 104 N.H. 276, 184 A.2d 449 (1962); In re Poulin, 100 N.H. 458, 129 A.2d 672 (1957).

In Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 86 S.Ct. 1045, 16 L.Ed.2d 84 (1966), the United States Supreme Court, considering a District of Columbia juvenile court statute very similar to RSA 169:21, held that the statutory requirement of a "full investigation" entitled the juvenile defendant to a hearing, and notice thereof, legal representation, access by counsel to social records and probation or similar reports considered by the court, and to a statement of reasons for the waiver decision. The Court stated: "We believe that this result is required by the statute read in the context of constitutional principles relating to due process and the assistance of counsel." Id. at 557, 86 S.Ct. at 1055.

Although the Supreme Court's decision in Kent was statutorily based, the language of the provision considered therein was very close to that of RSA 169:21. Further, the weight of authority now favors the judgment that the principles stated by Kent are of constitutional dimensions. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 12, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967); United States ex rel. Turner v. Rundle, 438 F.2d 839, 842 (3rd Cir. 1971) (and cases cited). The critical importance of the proceedings to the juvenile defendant has been recognized by the Supreme Court (Kent, 383 U.S. at 556, 86 S.Ct. at 1054), and by authorities in the field:

"There is convincing evidence that most juvenile court personnel, and the judges themselves, regard the waiver of jurisdiction as the most severe sanction which may be imposed by the juvenile court. Not only is the juvenile exposed to the probability of severe punishment, but the confidentiality and individuality of the juvenile proceeding is replaced by the publicity and normative concepts of penal law; the child acquires a public arrest record which, even if he is acquitted, will inhibit his rehabilitation because of the opprobrium attached thereto by prospective employers; if convicted as an adult, the child may be detained well past his twenty-first birthday; he may lose certain civil rights and be disqualified for public employment." Schornhorst, "The Waiver of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction: Kent Revisited," 43 Ind.L.J. 583, 586-87 (1968).

Accordingly, we hold that in the highly important context of a juvenile waiver proceeding, the procedural safeguards specified in Kent are henceforth to be applied under RSA 169:21 and N.H.Const pt. I, art. 15. Thus the juvenile is entitled to notice and a hearing in district or municipal court on the question of waiver, with the assistance of counsel. The counsel must be provided with access to court records and probation reports or other juvenile files on the minor involved. Finally, prior to transfer or indictment, the juvenile must be given a written statement of findings and reasons for making the transfer to superior court. In determining whether to allow the transfer, the superior court shall accept the district court's waiver decision unless upon review of the record it finds the ruling to have been unsupported by the evidence, or erroneous as a matter of law. RSA 169:24 (Supp.1975); see Knott v. Langlois, 102 R.I. 517, 231 A.2d 767 (1967); Summers v. State, 248 Ind. 551, 230 N.E.2d 320 (1967); State v. Gibbs, 94 Idaho 908, 500 P.2d 209 (1972); People in Interest of L. V. A., 248 N.W.2d 864 (S.D.1976).

In addition to the aforementioned procedural protections, the Supreme Court recognized in Kent that the critical process of waiving jurisdiction was subject to meaningful review. In an appendix to the opinion, the Court set forth general determinative factors to assist the juvenile court in making its waiver decision, which are as follows:

1. The seriousness of the alleged offense to the community and whether the protection of the community requires waiver.

2. Whether the alleged offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated or willful manner.

3. Whether the alleged offense was against persons or against property, greater weight being given to offenses against persons especially if personal injury...

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  • State v. Ploof
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • November 2, 2011
    ...legislative enactment will be construed to avoid conflict with constitutional rights wherever reasonably possible.” State v. Smagula, 117 N.H. 663, 666, 377 A.2d 608 (1977). Given that the trial court is vested with the discretion to make initial determinations of relevancy and reliability,......
  • State v. Benoit
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • February 6, 1985
    ...or "certified," the superior court may then treat the accused minor as an adult. RSA 169-B:24 (Supp.1983). In State v. Smagula, 117 N.H. 663, 377 A.2d 608 (1977), annual figures were cited reflecting that of 4,510 delinquency petitions formally filed in 1976 (a smaller number than total pol......
  • Roy v. Perrin
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    • February 12, 1982 the standards of Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 557, 86 S.Ct. 1045, 1055, 16 L.Ed.2d 84 (1966); see State v. Smagula, 117 N.H. 663, 667-68, 377 A.2d 608, 610-11 (1977). At the habeas corpus hearing, the Superior Court (Dalianis, J.) ruled that because the record showed that the dis......
  • State v. Beattie
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    ...violate the equal protection guarantees of our State Constitution. See Merrill, 124 N.H. at 14-15, 466 A.2d 923 ; State v. Smagula, 117 N.H. 663, 666, 377 A.2d 608 (1977) (observing that "[i]t is a basic principle of statutory construction that a legislative enactment will be construed to a......
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