AR Supreme Court denies teenagers request to be tried as juvenile in murder of guard www.privateofficer.com
Christopher Beverage is charged with killing a guard during an escape from the Jack Jones Juvenile Justice Center in Pine Bluff. Prosecutors say Beverage and two other teens, Nicholas Dismuke and Brandon Henderson, escaped from the facility on Jan. 30, 2010, and that during the escape Beverage and Dismuke attacked security guard Leonard Wall, who later died from his injuries.
Beverage also allegedly attacked and injured another guard, Gloria Wilburn, and stole a vehicle from a couple at a gas station.
Beverage and Dismuke were apprehended in Fort Smith on Feb. 1, 2010. Henderson was apprehended the next day in Oklahoma.
Beverage is charged as an adult with capital murder, second-degree battery, first-degree escape, theft of property and three counts of aggravated robbery.
After he was charged, he filed a motion seeking to transfer the case to juvenile court and challenging the constitutionality of a state law that allows prosecutors to charge a juvenile defendant as an adult if the defendant is accused of committing acts at age 16 or 17 that would be felonies if committed by an adult.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Wyatt Jr. denied the motion, and Beverage appealed.
In its unanimous opinion Thursday upholding Watt’s ruling, the Supreme Court said prosecutors had sufficient reason to charge Beverage as an adult and rejected arguments that the law allowing that action was unconstitutional.
Beverage argued that the state Legislature had violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers by dictating court procedures. In its opinion Thursday rejecting Beverage’s appeal, the Supreme Court said the statute is “a substantive law that is rooted in public policy” and therefore falls under the purview of the General Assembly, “the policy-making branch of government.”
The court also rejected Beverage’s argument that the statute violates the equal-protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions because it allows prosecutors to treat certain juveniles differently from others. The Supreme Court said restrictions that single out certain classifications of people are permissible if they have a rational basis and serve a legitimate purpose.
“Due to the well-documented rise in the violent crime rate among juveniles in recent years, the Legislature was prompted to restrict or qualify the right of treatment as a juvenile by making the option of trying juveniles as adults available to the state,” Chief Justice Jim Hannah wrote in the court’s opinion.