When a crime is committed by an individual who is under the age of 18, there may be a question of whether the individual should be tried in juvenile court or in the adult court. In the case of Cooper Van Huizen, the issue is now going before the Utah Supreme Court.
Van Huizen was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated burglary after the then 16-year old participated in a robbery in 2013. According to the Utah Court of Appeals opinion, there were five individuals total involved, two juveniles and three adults. The court stated that “[a]lthough Van Huizen did not orchestrate the robbery, he agreed to it and facilitated the plan by providing guns from his family home.” The group then went out looking for drugs and robbed a house they knew had marijuana in it. The court stated that “[t]hough Van Huizen did not carry a firearm or other weapon, he was part of the group that entered the home and committed the robbery.”
The juvenile court determined that under Utah's Serious Youth Offender Act, Van Huizen could be tried in adult court for his crimes. Van Huizen eventually plead guilty to “two reduced counts of robbery.” He was then sentenced in district court to “concurrent prison terms of one to fifteen years.” According to the Standard-Examiner, “Van Huizen got the harshest prison sentence of the five suspects.” However, he was paroled after serving only six months in jail.
The Standard-Examiner reported that the lengthy sentence that was handed down for Van Huizen “sparked debate about prosecuting juvenile's in Utah's adult courts” and “partially in response to public outcry over Van Huizen's case, the Utah Legislature in 2015 passed Senate Bill 167, making it harder for prosecutors to push juvenile cases into adult court.”
Van Huizen appealed his conviction and in February of 2017, the Utah Court of Appeals handed down a decision that looked at the decision of the juvenile court judge to send his case to adult court. The appellate court determined that “Van Huizen is entitled to a new bindover hearing because the Juvenile Judge's spousal relationship with the Chief Criminal Deputy created an appearance of partiality in the original bindover proceeding.” (The bindover hearing was where the judge determined that the case should be moved, or bound over, to adult court.) The court then remanded the case to the juvenile court “for a hearing before a new judge.” In addition, the court stated that “[i]f Van Huizen is bound over to district court, the results of his district court proceeding will remain undisturbed. If Van Huizen is not bound over, his convictions in the district court shall be vacated.”
The state subsequently decided to appeal this decision and just recently, as previously mentioned, the Utah Supreme Court agreed to look at the issue. According to the Standard-Examiner, the briefs for the parties were due at the end of August. It is unclear when oral argument in the case will take place.