Rule 208. Transfer to Criminal Court

Rule 208. Transfer to Criminal Court

(a) Notice of Intent to SeekTransfer of Jurisdiction of Child to Criminal Court. The state must file written notice, in good faith and not for the purpose of delay, of the intent to seek transfer in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-134.  The decision on whether or not the state will seek transfer must be made within 90 days of the child being charged with an offense and no less than 14 days prior to the transfer hearing or the adjudicatory hearing, whichever occurs first. This time period may be extended by the court for good cause. The written notice of intent to seek transfer must be filed at least 14 days prior to the transfer hearing. Once that notice is filed,the court shall not hear the case on its merits, but shall proceed to conduct a hearing only in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-134.

(b)  Transfer Hearing.

(1)  At the transfer hearing:

(A) A prosecutor shall represent the state;

(B) The child shall be represented by an attorney;

(C) The child may testify as a witness in his or her own behalf, and may call and examine other witnesses and produce other evidence on his or her own behalf, however no plea shall be accepted by the court; and

(D) Each witness shall testify under oath or affirmation and be subject to cross-examination.

(2)  The same rules of evidence shall apply as are applicable to a preliminary examination, pursuant to the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure.

(3)  Unless the child appears in any way to be mentally ill or intellectually disabled, and unless personally or through counsel asserts that the child is mentally ill or intellectually disabled, it shall be presumed that the child is not committable to an institution for the mentally ill or intellectually disabled, and the court may so find. If mental illness is alleged, the court shall order psychological or psychiatric examination at any stage of the proceeding.

(4)  If the court determines that the criteria for transfer have been satisfied and finds that there is probable cause for transfer, the child may be transferred to criminal court.

(5)  Any order of transfer shall specify the grounds for transfer and set bond if the offense is bailable pursuant to state law.

Advisory Commission Comments.

When considering whether “reasonable grounds” is equivalent to “probable cause,” the courts in Tennessee have opined: “While no definition of ‘reasonable grounds’ is provided in the statute, the term has been used interchangeably with ‘probable cause’ by the courts of this state.”  State v. Bowery, 189 S.W.3d 240, 248 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2004); State v. Melson, 638 S.W.2d 342, 350 (Tenn. 1982); State v. Humphreys, 70 S.W.3d 752, 761 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2001).

Regarding the provision in subdivision (b)(1) that the child shall be represented by an attorney, the child must have the benefit of an attorney at the transfer hearing due to the significant ramifications if the child’s case is transferred to adult court.

The U. S. Supreme Court’s rulings in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) recognized that courts must consider a juvenile’s “lessened culpability” and greater “capacity for change”.  In accordance with these cases, the child must be represented by counsel in order to ensure consideration by the courts of all issues involving a minor defendant in a delinquency action, especially the unique nature of the juvenile offender.

Under T.C.A. § 37-1-134, the court must find reasonable grounds to believe that (i) the child committed the delinquent act as alleged, (ii) the child is not committable to an institution for the intellectually disabled or mentally ill, and (iii) the interests of the community require that the child be put under legal restraint or discipline. Regarding subdivision (b)(3) and § 37-1-134, it has been held by both the Tennessee Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals that, although the burden of proof is on the prosecution on such issue, there is a presumption of noncommittability similar to that relating to sanity in criminal trials. Such presumption can be rebutted by evidence introduced by the defendant, and in such event the burden would shift back to the prosecution to persuade the court the child is not committable. See Howell v. Hodge, 710 F.3d 381, 386 (6th Cir. 2013). The Commission suggests, however, that it is good practice in any case for the court to arrange for testing and evaluation, evidence of which may be introduced by either of the parties or the court on the issue of committability.

Subdivision (b)(1)(C) provides that no plea shall be accepted by the court during the transfer hearing. This does not preclude the parties from agreeing to terminate the transfer hearing prior to its completion and holding an adjudicatory hearing. Once a plea is accepted by the juvenile court, double jeopardy attaches and the matter may not be transferred to criminal court. See Breed v. Jones, 421 U.S. 519, 95 S. Ct. 1779 (1975) and State v. Jackson, 503 S.W.2d 185 (Tenn. 1973).

If the case is not transferred to criminal court, T.C.A. § 37-1-134 prohibits the judge who conducted the transfer hearing from presiding over the adjudicatory hearing on the petition if a party objects. Also, T.C.A. § 37-1-134 prohibits a judge who has conducted a transfer hearing from presiding at a hearing in the same case in criminal court. Such a situation might arise if a judge were sitting specially in criminal court, or if a person who was formerly the juvenile court judge were elected to the criminal court or to any other court which might hear such a case by special arrangement.

[As amended by order filed December 21, 2016, effective July 1, 2017.]

Advisory Commission Comments [2017].

Subdivision (b)(4) is amended to substitute the term “probable cause” for the term “reasonable grounds” because T.C.A. § 37-1-134 was amended to use the term “probable cause.”