A Tacoma teenager charged with killing his father will not have his case reviewed as a possible candidate for juvenile court, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The case of 17-year-old Rylan Salzman was a local example of public defenders demanding reform of juvenile justice laws across the country in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
The state automatically sends 16- and 17-year-old defendants charged with certain violent crimes to adult courts where they face longer incarceration. Salzman’s attorneys argued that the law was unconstitutional.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Brian Tollefson denied to rule the so-called “auto-decline” law unconstitutional, which means Salzman won’t get a hearing to argue why he should be charged as a juvenile and not as an adult.
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Salzman was 16 in June 2014 when he allegedly beat his father to death with a cane during an argument. Prosecutors charged him with second-degree murder and he is scheduled for trial in August.
If found guilty in juvenile court, he could have been put into the custody of the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration until he was 21.
In adult court, he faces a standard-range sentence of between 12 years, three months, to 18 years, eight months, in state prison.
Deputy prosecutor Lisa Wagner, in her argument to the judge, disagreed with the phrase “auto-decline.” She said that implies such cases initially are in juvenile court.
“In this case, by statute, juvenile court never had jurisdiction,” she said. “It was always in adult court.”
The defense cited recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings they argued mean mandatory treatment of children as adults might be unconstitutional.
In one, Miller v. Alabama, the high court ruled automatic life-without-parole for juveniles convicted of aggravated first-degree murder were unconstitutional.
Such a penalty — without considering such factors as susceptibility to peer pressure and negative parental influences — violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court court ruled.
In the Salzman case, prosecutors argued the defense failed to legally support its Eight Amendment stance, and that sentencing is where mitigating factors should be considered.
Tollefson said the rulings cited by Salzman’s attorneys addressed the punishment of juveniles, rather than how they are charged.
“We haven’t reached that stage yet, if it will ever be reached,” Tollefson said.
A bill to eliminate the “auto-decline law” failed to make it out of committee in the Legislature this year.
“It’s a very important issue,” an attorney for Salzman, Clarence Henderson Jr., said after Tuesday’s hearing. “It’s an issue that’s coming up in courts all across the state and the country. It’s a fight that definitely needs to be made.”