The Washington Supreme Court has overturned a pair of over-punitive sentences for two Tacoma teens. Five teens were initially charged for the string of armed robberies that took place on Halloween 2012. Zyion Houston Sconiers, 17, Treson Roberts, 16, Amancio Tolbert, 16, and two juvenile respondents were charged with five counts of first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, along with nine enhancements for firearms. The group stole cell phones, backpacks, and candy from victims, but according to their lawyer they merely took whatever was surrendered and candy was among those items. Nevertheless, the incident was cited as armed candy robbery in many Washington news outlets. Tolbert, Roberts, and Sconiers were tried as adults for the crime. The two other juvenile respondents were 13 and 15 years old. One of the teens carried a loaded .22 caliber handgun, but no one was injured. With the assist of a police dog, officers located the teens and arrested them, seizing the stolen items. Police later found that the ammunition did not match the gun and would not have fired.
Roberts and Sconiers, being the eldest, were eventually sentenced in Pierce County to 40 years and 45 years in prison respectively. Their lawyers appealed, primarily on the grounds that juveniles must be tried differently than adults. The case went to the state Supreme Court, also spurring statewide debate on the topic juvenile justice. A Seattle Times op-ed posed the question "Should society treat this as serious juvenile misbehavior or the bloom of adult criminality?"
Supreme Court justices noted that the constitution gives Superior Court justices substantial elbow room with sentencing juveniles, allowing them the discretion to ignore legally-required sentencing enhancements should they choose. In addition, they ruled that juveniles deserve a hearing to present any mitigating factors, like age and upbringing, when handing down sentences. The court ultimately upheld the convictions but ordered new sentencing for the boys, to be determined by a lower court.
Vanessa Hernandez, the Washington Youth Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union, applauded the court's ruling, emphasizing the importance of not treating juveniles like adults in the court system. “We hope this decision spurs the Washington Legislature to take a hard look at our state's outdated laws that lead to the automatic prosecution of juveniles in adult court, and leads to the development of solutions that recognize the needs and potential of children,” she said. Commentators have posited that a second chance would serve the youths better than their excessive prison sentences, with the Seattle Times noting that the boys may have even received lesser sentences had they committed murder.
No matter the crime or circumstances, everyone is entitled to a strong legal defense when they face criminal charges. If you have been charged in the Seattle area contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi for a free consultation today.