Berfield v. State

In Berfield v. State, 458 P.2d 1008 (Alaska 1969), a sentencing judge relied on the defendant's prior delinquency adjudications when explaining why he believed that the defendant should receive a lengthy sentence of imprisonment for a new crime. (Berfield, 458 P.2d at 1010.) Berfield argued that this was legal error. Citing former AS 47.10.080(g) -- the predecessor to current AS 47.12.180 -- Berfield argued that it was unlawful for the sentencing judge to rely on his delinquency adjudications because the statute declared that a delinquency adjudication "could not be afterward deemed a criminal conviction". (Id. at 1011.) In Berfield, the supreme court explained that this statute was not intended to bar judges from considering the conduct underlying a prior delinquency adjudication. Rather, the statute was intended to ensure that a delinquency adjudication would not be treated as the equivalent of a criminal conviction when the very existence of a conviction makes a difference to the defendant's legal status -- as, for instance, when the existence or number of a defendant's prior convictions will determine the defendant's mandatory minimum sentence. Thus, the supreme court held, the sentencing judge's act of considering and weighing the conduct underlying Berfield's prior delinquency adjudications did not constitute "using the juvenile adjudications as criminal convictions". (Id. at 1012.)