from Tuscaloosa Circuit Court (CC-17-3009)
State of Alabama appeals a judgment of the Tuscaloosa Circuit
Court dismissing an indictment charging B.T.D. with
second-degree assault, see § 13A-6-21, Ala.
Code 1975, based on the circuit court's conclusion that
§ 12-15-204, Ala. Code 1975, is unconstitutional. B.T.D.
cross-appeals. For the reasons set forth herein, we reverse
the judgment and remand the cause for further proceedings.
and Procedural History
August 25, 2017, a Tuscaloosa County grand jury returned an
indictment charging B.T.D. with the second-degree assault of
C.H. Although B.T.D. was 17 years old at the time of the
alleged assault, in which C.H. allegedly suffered a broken
leg, § 12-15-204 required that B.T.D. be tried as an
adult for the alleged assault. Specifically, §
"(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any
person who has attained the age of 16 years at the time of
the conduct charged and who is charged with the commission of
any act or conduct, which if committed by an adult would
constitute any of the following, shall not be subject to the
jurisdiction of juvenile court but shall be charged,
arrested, and tried as an adult:
"(1) A capital offense.
"(2) A Class A felony.
"(3) A felony which has as an element thereof the use of
a deadly weapon.
"(4) A felony which has as an element thereof the
causing of death or serious physical injury.
"(5) A felony which has as an element thereof the use of
a dangerous instrument against any person who is one of the
"a. A law enforcement officer or official.
"b. A correctional officer or official.
"c. A parole or probation officer or official.
"d. A juvenile court probation officer or official.
"e. A district attorney or other prosecuting officer or
"f. A judge or judicial official.
"g. A court officer or official.
"h. A person who is a grand juror, juror, or witness in
any legal proceeding of whatever nature when the offense
stems from, is caused by, or is related to the role of the
person as a juror, grand juror, or witness.
"i. A teacher, principal, or employee of the public
education system of Alabama.
"(6) Trafficking in drugs in violation of Section
13A-12-231, or as the same may be amended.
"(7) Any lesser included offense of the above offenses
charged or any lesser felony offense charged arising from the
same facts and circumstances and committed at the same time
as the offenses listed above. Provided, however, that the
juvenile court shall maintain original jurisdiction over
these lesser included offenses if the grand jury fails to
indict for any of the offenses enumerated in subsections
(a)(1) to (a)(6), inclusive. The juvenile court shall also
maintain original jurisdiction over these lesser included
offenses, subject to double jeopardy limitations, if the
court handling criminal offenses dismisses all charges for
offenses enumerated in subsections (a)(1) to (a)(6),
December 6, 2017, B.T.D. filed a motion seeking to have the
circuit court dismiss the indictment and to declare §
12-15-204 unconstitutional. According to B.T.D., §
12-15-204 violates the Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution and Art. I,
§ 6, of the Alabama Constitution of 1901. In support of
that argument, B.T.D. cited Kent v. United States,
383 U.S. 541 (1966), in which, he said, the United States
Supreme Court "held that the transfer of a child from
juvenile to adult court imposes a significant deprivation of
liberty" and therefore "made clear that a transfer
proceeding must provide due process protections." (C.
44.) Specifically, B.T.D. contended that Kent
requires the juvenile court to make a "full
investigation ... into the facts of the alleged offense"
and consider certain factors before a juvenile offender can
be tried as an adult. (C. 45.) Thus, B.T.D. argued, §
12-15-204, which automatically requires that certain
juvenile offenders be tried as an adult, "lacks the core
requirements of Kent" (C. 45) because
"procedural protections ... [are] nonexistent." (C.
49.) In further support of his due-process claim, B.T.D. also
argued that juveniles have "a substantive due process
right to have their youthfulness and its attendant
characteristics considered as a mitigating factor at every
stage of delinquency and criminal proceedings, ... especially
regarding automatic transfer." (C. 55.) In support of
that argument, B.T.D. cited Roper v. Simmons, 543
U.S. 551 (2005); Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48
(2010); J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261
(2011); Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012); and
Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718
(2016). According to B.T.D., in those cases, the United
States Supreme Court "repeatedly emphasized the
importance of the hallmark features of adolescence to our
laws of criminal procedure" (C. 42) and "demanded
individualized consideration of those features before
children can be exposed to the harshest consequences of the
adult criminal justice system." (C. 42-43.)
also argued that § 12-15-204 violates the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution. In support of that argument, B.T.D. noted
that, under § 12-15-203, Ala. Code 1975, a juvenile
offender who is 14 or 15 years old can be tried as an adult,
regardless of the offense, only after a hearing at which the
juvenile court must consider certain factors. However, B.T.D.
noted, a juvenile who has attained the age of 16 years and is
charged with an offense enumerated in § 12-15-204 is
automatically prosecuted as an adult. Relying on
Roper, Graham, J.D.B.,
Miller, and Montgomery, B.T.D. argued that
"no ground can be conceived to justify the distinctions
drawn between older and younger children" in §
12-15-204. (C. 57.)
B.T.D. argued that § 12-15-204(a)(4) -- the specific
paragraph of § 12-15-204 mandating that he be tried as
an adult -- is unconstitutionally vague and overly broad. As
noted, § 12-15-204(a)(4) requires that a juvenile
offender who has attained the age of 16 years be tried as an
adult for committing "[a] felony which has as an element
thereof the causing of death or serious physical
injury." According to B.T.D., however, the phrase
"serious physical injury" lacks sufficient clarity
and is "so broad and vague that it invites arbitrary ...
prosecution." (C. 54.)
State filed a response to B.T.D.'s motion in which it
argued that this Court has already decided the
constitutionality of § 12-15-34.1, Ala. Code 1975 -- the
predecessor to § 12-15-204 -- in Price v.
State, 683 So.2d 44 (Ala.Crim.App.1996). On June 25, 2018,
the circuit court heard oral arguments from the parties
regarding B.T.D.'s due-process and equal-protection
challenges to § 12-15-204 and his vagueness and
overbreadth challenges to § 12-15-204(a)(4).
August 30, 2018, the circuit court entered a judgment
dismissing the indictment against B.T.D. based on the
court's findings that § 12-15-204 violates a
juvenile offender's due-process rights and that §
12-15-204(a)(4), specifically, is unconstitutionally vague
and overly broad. In support of its conclusion that §
12-15-204 violates due-process principles, the circuit court
relied on Roper, Graham, J.D.B.,
Miller, and Montgomery to find that a
juvenile has "a constitutionally protected liberty
interest in his status as a juvenile." (C. 1248.) (For
ease of reference in this opinion, we hereinafter refer to
Roper, Graham, J.D.B.,
Miller, and Montgomery as "the
Roper line of cases.") In reaching that
conclusion, the circuit court reasoned that the
Roper line of cases "recognized that youth are
developmentally different from adults" (C. 1241) and
therefore "mandate[s] an individualized approach before
youth may be subjected to adult consequences." (C.
1243.) Specifically, the circuit court contended that
Kent "listed several factors that should be
considered before a child may be transferred to adult
criminal court." (C. 1246.) Thus, the circuit court
concluded, because § 12-15-204 "does not allow for
consideration of any of the Kent factors," the
statute "violates due process by mandating that certain
children automatically be treated as adults, thereby
foreclosing any consideration of their individual attributes
and circumstances." (C. 1247.) As to §
12-15-204(a)(4), specifically, the circuit court concluded
that the legislature's use of the phrase "serious
physical injury" renders § 12-15-204(a)(4)
unconstitutionally "vague and overly-broad." (C.
1251.) According to the circuit court, under §
12-15-204(a)(4), "[a] child can be deprived of her/his
liberty interest in remaining in juvenile court ... in
virtually every circumstance involving allegations of a
felony with an injury." (C. 1251-52.) Finally, the
circuit court rejected the State's argument that this
Court upheld the constitutionality of § 12-15-204 in
Price. According to the circuit court, this Court
did not address the appellant's due-process arguments in
Price because those arguments had been waived for
appellate review. The circuit court also noted that
Price "makes no mention of Kent"
and "was decided ... before the current automatic
transfer provision, § 12-15-204, was even adopted, and
without the Supreme Court's current doctrinal view of
children's constitutional rights under the
Constitution." (C. 1252-53.)
State filed a timely notice of appeal in which it argues that
the circuit court erred by holding that § 12-15-204
violates due-process principles and by holding that §
12-15-204(a)(4) is vague and overly broad. B.T.D. filed a
cross-appeal in which he argues that the circuit court erred
by refusing to find § 12-15-204 unconstitutional in its
entirety. However, B.T.D.'s cross-appeal is due to be
dismissed because there is no adverse ruling to B.T.D. from
which he can appeal. It is true that B.T.D. requested the
circuit court find § 12-15-204 unconstitutional in its
entirety, and it is also true that, in the introductory
paragraph of its judgment, the circuit court stated that
§ 12-15-204(a)(4) violates due-process
principles but that the court was denying B.T.D.'s
request to declare § 12-15-204 unconstitutional in its
entirety. (C. 1238-39.) However, it is evident from the
substance of the circuit court's judgment that, although
the court's vagueness and overbreadth analysis is
specific to § 12-15-204(a)(4), its due-process
analysis is applicable to § 12-15-204 in its
entirety. That is to say, if § 12-15-204(a)(4)
"violates due process by mandating that certain children
automatically be treated as adults" (C. 1247), as the
circuit court concluded, then § 12-15-204 in its
entirety violates due-process principles for the same reason.
Thus, because the circuit court's statement that it did
not find § 12-15-204 unconstitutional in its entirety is
inconsistent with the court's due-process analysis, that
statement constitutes dicta. See Brookwood Health Servs.,
Inc. v. Affinity Hosp., LLC, 101 So.3d 1221, 1224 (Ala.
Civ. App. 2012). As a result, B.T.D. received the relief he
sought --a judgment declaring § 12-15-204
unconstitutional -- and therefore did not receive an adverse
ruling from which he can appeal. Id. Accordingly, we
dismiss the cross-appeal and proceed with a discussion of the
constitutionality of § 12-15-204.
"The Alabama Supreme Court has discussed the principles
applicable to a challenge to the constitutionality of a
statute, noting first that review of a challenge is de
novo. State ex rel. King v. Morton, 955 So.2d
1012, 1017 (Ala. 2006). The Court stated:
"'[A]cts of the legislature are presumed
constitutional. State v. Alabama Mun. Ins. Corp.,
730 So.2d 107, 110 (Ala. 1998). See also Dobbs v. Shelby
County Econ. & Indus. Dev. Auth., 749 So.2d 425, 428
(Ala. 1999) ("In reviewing the constitutionality of a
legislative act, this Court will sustain the act
'"unless it is clear beyond reasonable doubt that it
is violative of the fundamental law."'"
White v. Reynolds Metals Co., 558 So.2d 373, 383
(Ala. 1989) (quoting Alabama State Fed'n of Labor v.
McAdory, 246 Ala. 1, 9, 18 So.2d 810, 815 (1944))). We
approach the question of the constitutionality of a
legislative act "'"with every presumption and
intendment in favor of its validity, and seek to sustain
rather than strike down the enactment of a coordinate branch
of the government."'" Monroe v. Harco,
Inc., 762 So.2d 828, 831 (Ala. 2000) (quoting Moore
v. Mobile Infirmary Ass'n, 592 So.2d 156, 159 (Ala.
1991), quoting in turn McAdory, 246 Ala. at 9, 18
So.2d at 815).
"'Moreover, in order to overcome the presumption of
constitutionality, ... the party asserting the
unconstitutionality of the Act ... bears the burden "to
show that [the Act] is not constitutional." Board of
Trustees of Employees' Retirement Sys. of Montgomery v.
Talley, 291 Ala. 307, 310, 280 So.2d 553, 556 (1973).
See also Thorn v. Jefferson County, 375 So.2d 780,
787 (Ala. 1979) ("It is the law, of course, that a party
attacking a statute has the burden of overcoming the
presumption of constitutionality ....").'
"955 So.2d at 1017." State v. Worley, 102
So.3d 435, 448-49 (Ala.Crim.App.2011).
issues before this Court are whether § 12-15-204
violates due-process and equal-protection principles and
whether § 12-15-204(a)(4), specifically, violates the
doctrines of vagueness and overbreadth.
Process and Equal Protection
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits
state governments from depriving 'any person of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law ....'
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. This clause has two
components: the procedural due process and the substantive
due process components." Singleton v. Cecil,
176 F.3d 419, 424 (8th Cir. 1999). Although procedural and
substantive due process "are not mutually
exclusive" doctrines, Becker v. Kroll, 494 F.3d
904, 918 n.8 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Albright v.
Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 301 (1994) (Stevens, J.,
dissenting)), "[t]he two components are distinct from
each other because each has different objectives, and each
imposes different constitutional limitations on government
power." Howard v. Grinage, 82 F.3d 1343, 1349
(6th Cir. 1996).
due process, protected by the Constitutions of the United
States and this State, requires notice and an opportunity to
be heard when one's life, liberty, or property interest
are about to be affected by governmental action.'"
Ex parte Fountain, 842 So.2d 726, 729 (Ala. 2001)
(quoting Brown's Ferry Waste Disposal Ctr., Inc. v.
Trent, 611 So.2d 226, 228 (Ala. 1992)). Thus, the
essential threshold inquiry in a procedural due-process claim
is whether the claimant can establish governmental
interference with a protected liberty or property
interest. See Stephenson v. Lawrence Cty. Bd. of
Educ., 782 So.2d 192, 200 (Ala. 2000) (noting that a
"protected property interest" is "an essential
threshold requirement for establishing a claim based on an
alleged deprivation of procedural due process"); and
Crawford v. State, 92 So.3d 168, 171
(Ala.Crim.App.2011) (noting that, "[t]o prevail on a
procedural-due-process claim," the claimant "must
show that the [government] deprive[d] him of a protected
liberty interest"). In the absence of a protected
liberty or property interest, procedural due process is not
required in conjunction with government interference. See
Stephenson, 782 So.2d at 201 (holding that the appellant
was not entitled to procedural due process because she did
not have a "protectable property interest" in her
employment); and Crawford, 92 So.3d at 172
(considering whether the appellant satisfied "the first
prong of the procedural due-process analysis," i.e.,
establishing a "protected liberty interest," before
considering "whether the procedure accompanying the
deprivation of his liberty interest was constitutionally
adequate"). See also Rezaq v. Nalley, 677 F.3d
1001, 1017 (10th Cir. 2012) (holding that, because the
appellants "lack a cognizable liberty interest" in
avoiding transfer between prisons, "no due process
protections were required before they were
transferred"); and Cucciniello v. Keller, 137
F.3d 721, 724 (2d Cir. 1998) ("Since no protected
liberty interest is being impaired, no due process is
substantive due-process component of the Fourteenth
Amendment, on the other hand, "protects individual
liberty against 'certain government actions
regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to
implement them.'" Collins v. City of Harker
Heights, Texas, 503 U.S. 115, 125 (1992) (quoting
Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 331 (1986)
(emphasis added)). It prohibits governmental interference
with individual liberty that is "unreasonable,
arbitrary, or capricious," Walter v. City of Gulf
Shores, 829 So.2d 181, 186 (Ala.Crim.App.2001), by
"forc[ing] courts to step beyond merely assuring ...
that a state actor fairly followed a particular procedure
(procedural due process) and to examine whether the
particular outcome was itself 'fair' or whether it
was impermissibly 'arbitrary or conscience
shocking.'" Alabama Republican Party v.
McGinley, 893 So.2d 337, 344 (Ala. 2004) (quoting
Waddell v. Hendry Cty. Sheriff's Office, 329
F.3d 1300, 1305 (11th Cir. 2003)). In doing so, substantive
due process "protects those fundamental rights and
liberties which are, objectively, 'deeply rooted in this
Nation's history and tradition,' and 'implicit in
the concept of ordered liberty,' such that 'neither
liberty nor justice would exist if they were
sacrificed.'" Washington v. Glucksberg, 521
U.S. 702, 720-21 (1997) (citations omitted). Of course,
substantive due process is not an absolute prohibition of
governmental interference with individual liberty but,
rather, requires courts to balance the sanctity of individual
liberty against the necessity of the government's
interference with that liberty. Hernandez v. Foster,
657 F.3d 463, 478 (7th Cir. 2011); Norris v. Engles,
494 F.3d 634, 638 (8th Cir. 2007). Similarly, although the
Equal Protection Clause provides, as its name implies, that
the government shall not "deny to any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," U.S.
Const., Amend. XIV, § 1, the right to equal protection
of the laws is not absolute. See Wilkins v. Gaddy,
734 F.3d 344, 347 (4th Cir. 2013) (noting that the right to
equal protection of the laws "is not and cannot be
absolute" (citing Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620,
631 (1996))); and Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600, 612
(1974) (noting that "there are obviously limits beyond
which the equal protection analysis may not be
pressed"). As in a substantive due-process analysis,
courts addressing an equal-protection claim must weigh
competing interests, i.e., the burden imposed by the
discriminatory classification against the government's
justification for the discrimination. Van Allen v.
Cuomo, 621 F.3d 244, 248 (2d Cir. 2010).
these general principles in mind, we turn to a discussion of
whether § 12-15-204 violates due-process or
Procedural Due Process
noted, the threshold question in addressing a procedural
due-process claim is whether the claimant has been deprived
of a protected liberty or property interest. In concluding
that § 12-15-204 violates due process, the circuit court
relied on Kent and the Roper line of cases
to conclude that juvenile offenders have "a
constitutionally protected liberty interest in [their] status
as a juvenile" and, as a result, are entitled to the
procedural due process set forth in Kent before they
can be prosecuted in "adult court." However, the
circuit court's reliance on Kent and the
Roper line of cases is misplaced.
begin by noting that, contrary to the circuit court's
conclusion, it is widely recognized that "treatment as a
juvenile is not an inherent right but one granted by the
state legislature[;] therefore, the legislature may restrict
or qualify that right as it sees fit, as long as no arbitrary
or discriminatory classification is involved."
Woodard v. Wainwright, 556 F.2d 781, 785 (5th Cir.
1977). See, e.g., C.B. v. State,
406 S.W.3d 796, 800 (Ark. 2012) (same, quoting
Woodard); Brazill v. State, 845 So.2d 282,
287 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2003) (noting that "there is no
absolute right conferred by common law, constitution, or
otherwise, requiring children to be treated in a special
system for juvenile offenders"); State v. B.B.,
300 Conn. 748, 752-53, 17 A.3d 30, 33-34 (2011) ("Any
liberty interest in status as a defendant on the youthful
offender docket ... results only from statutory authority.
'Any [special treatment] accorded to a juvenile because
of his [or her] age with respect to proceedings relative to a
criminal offense results from statutory authority, rather
than from any inherent or constitutional
right.'" (footnote and citation omitted));
Cuvas v. State, 306 Ga.App. 679, 683, 703 S.E.2d
116, 120 (2010) (noting that there is "no inherent right
to be treated as a juvenile"); State v.
Coleman, 271 Kan. 733, 735, 26 P.3d 613, 616 (2001)
(noting that "adjudication as a juvenile is not a
fundamental interest" and that the "special
treatment of juvenile offenders on account of age is not an
inherent or constitutional right but rather results from
statutory authority, which can be withdrawn"); Stout
v. Commonwealth, 44 S.W.3d 781, 785 (Ky. Ct. App. 2000)
("It is axiomatic that a juvenile offender has no
constitutional right to be tried in juvenile court.");
and In re J.F., 714 A.2d 467, 472 (Pa. 1998)
(recognizing that there is "no constitutional right to
treatment as a juvenile").
course, as some of those cases note, a state's
legislature can choose to provide juvenile offenders with a
statutorily protected liberty interest in
juvenile-court adjudication. "If the Legislature
provides a juvenile with a statutory right to
'exclusive' juvenile court jurisdiction, ... the
juvenile does have a protectable liberty interest in a
juvenile adjudication, which attaches when the juvenile court
attains jurisdiction." State v. Grigsby, 818
N.W.2d 511, 517 (Minn. 2012). However, "[a]bsent a
statutory right to ...