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State v. Rojas

March 24, 1997

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
MAX GARCIA ROJAS, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-1-02925-2. Date filed: 09/28/95. Judge signing: Hon. Robert Alsdorf.

Authored by Walter E. Webster. Concurring: Susan R. Agid, Ronald E. Cox.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster

WEBSTER, J. -- Before his superior court trial commenced, Max Garcia Rojas moved to transfer the case to juvenile court. To support his motion, Rojas introduced a non-certified, Mexican birth record and testified that he gave the police the wrong birthdate when arrested. The trial court denied his motion, finding Rojas's evidence incredible and insufficient to prove his minority by a preponderance of the evidence. He appeals, challenging the burden of proof as improperly high. He argues instead that he only needed to create a reasonable doubt as to whether he was an adult.

We hold that when the State has a reasonable basis for believing a defendant is an adult, the defendant then bears a burden of producing some credible evidence of his minority. Because the trial court found that Rojas did not present credible testimony regarding his age and that the birth record was not persuasive, he failed to meet this minimal burden. Therefore, the trial court properly denied his motion to transfer.

FACTS

In April 1995, Max Garcia Rojas was charged with violating the Uniform Controlled Substances Act (VUCSA) *fn1 within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. *fn2

When he was arrested, Rojas had no identification showing his age, but he told the police that he was born on October 16, 1976. At trial, however, Rojas moved to transfer his case to juvenile court, claiming that he was born in 1978 and, therefore, was a minor.

The court held a pre-trial hearing to determine Rojas's true age. Because Rojas told the arresting officer that he was born in 1976, Rojas conceded that the State had a reasonable basis for believing that he was eighteen years old. The court concluded that Rojas had the burden of establishing his age by a preponderance of the evidence. Neither the court nor the parties distinguished the burden of production from the burden of persuasion.

On the stand, Rojas introduced a photocopied, non-certified, Mexican birth record. The record was made in 1984 and bore the name Jose Isabel Sanchez Llamas. Rojas contended this was his birth name. According to Rojas, a "friend" he met in jail known as "el Fraco" obtained the birth record from the Mexican consulate. But he also testified that his grandmother, previously unknown to him, sent the record. At the hearing, he gave both 1976 and 1978 as his birthdates. And he admitted lying to authorities about his age on previous occasions. Rojas also provided inconsistent testimony regarding the birthdate he gave to the arresting officer.

The court found that Rojas did not present credible testimony and that the birth record was not persuasive. The court then denied his motion to transfer, conducted a bench trial, and found Rojas guilty.

Discussion

Rojas asserts that the trial court improperly required him to prove his age by a preponderance of the evidence. But Rojas concedes that the State had a reasonable basis to believe he was an adult because he told the arresting officer that he was eighteen years old. In light of this concession, the court properly shifted some burden to Rojas. Although neither the State nor Rojas distinguishes between the burden of production and the burden of persuasion in this case, this distinction is important to our holding.

The "burden of proof" in any case includes both a burden of production and a burden of persuasion. *fn3 The burden of production identifies issues of fact for the fact finder, *fn4 while the burden of persuasion defines the fact finder's degree of certainty that an issue be decided in favor of the party bearing the ultimate burden of proof. *fn5 A party must first meet its burden to produce satisfactory evidence before the court reaches the ultimate burden of persuasion. *fn6 The trial court determines whether this burden of production is met in its findings of fact and, on appeal, these findings are reviewed for substantial evidence. *fn7 To reach our holding in this case, we apply the burden of production. Rojas concedes that because he told the arresting officer that he was eighteen years old, the State had a reasonable basis to believe him and to seek a trial in adult court. This concession shifted upon Rojas a minimal burden to produce credible evidence establishing his minority.

But at the age determination hearing, Rojas contradicted himself and introduced an unauthenticated birth record. Specifically, Rojas testified to two different birth years and two different means of obtaining the birth record. He admitted previously lying about his age, and the birth record was not in his name. The trial court, in the best position to determine witness credibility, *fn8 found this evidence incredible and unconvincing. This finding is supported by substantial evidence. Because ...


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