An Ogden judge has ruled that a 17-year-old boy whom he sent to prison will remain there, even as the teen asks the Utah Court of Appeals to consider his case.
Cooper Van Huizen was sentenced to prison on May 7 — when he was then 16 years old — by 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones, who ordered the teen to serve two concurrent terms of one to 15 years in prison for committing armed robbery.
Since then, the teen’s parents have fought the prison sentence, saying they did not receive solid legal advice from the boy’s defense attorney.
Van Huizen’s new attorney, Elizabeth Hunt, filed a number of motions asking Jones to reconsider the sentence, allow the teen to withdraw his guilty pleas, and allow the teen to be freed from prison while he appealed his case to the Utah Court of Appeals.
Last Friday, Jones denied four of the five motions filed, but ruled that Van Huizen was denied his right to appeal the decision to initially send his case from juvenile to adult court. On Tuesday, Jones filed an order reinstating Van Huizen’s right to appeal — but ruled that the teen will remain incarcerated during that process.
"... The circumstances forming the basis of defendant’s conviction demonstrate that it is not in the community’s best interest to release him from incarceration," Jones wrote. "The defendant is serving his current sentence because he pled guilty to robbery — a robbery accomplished through home invasion and through [Van Huizen’s] provision of firearms. These are actions and the sort of behavior that can only be characterized as absolutely contrary to the societal interests of peace and safety."
Jones also noted that Van Huizen’s age is not a factor to be considered when deciding whether to stay the sentence, adding that his behavior warranted charging the teen in adult court.
According to a victim’s statement to police, a group of teenage boys — of which Van Huizen was the youngest — entered his Roy home on Nov. 19 and held two people at gunpoint. The boys demanded money, cell phones and a stash of marijuana.
The victim told police that, after being ordered to lie facedown on the floor, "I thought I was going to get shot in the back of the head."
Because Van Huizen was 16 and the crime involved the use of a dangerous weapon, a juvenile judge decided he was a "serious youth offender" and sent him to adult court.
Van Huizen thought he would receive a sentence similar to his co-defendants, Joshua Dutson, 17, and Tomek Perkins, 19, who were sentenced to 210 days and 180 days in jail, respectively. Instead, Jones handed down the prison sentence, indicating at the May hearing that the harsher sentence was because Van Huizen provided the firearms used in the robbery.
According to court affidavits, neither Van Huizen nor his parents were informed that they could have appealed the juvenile court’s decision to send the teen to adult court within 30 days. Jones said in his ruling that because there was a judicial error there, the teen’s right to appeal would be reinstated.
Court records indicate that Hunt has already filed a notice of appeal on Van Huizen’s behalf, challenging Jones’ decision to send the first-time offender to prison.
Jones wrote in his ruling that he does not believe it is "reasonably likely" that the Court of Appeals will quash the bind over and send the case back to juvenile court. He also wrote that he is not convinced that it is likely that the appeals court will reverse his "other determinations," including imposing the prison sentence.
Jones rejected several of the other motions, including the motion to quash the bind over and motion to declare a misplea, because he said he did not have jurisdiction to hear the motions. He denied the motion to correct the sentence because he said ineffective council is not grounds for an illegal sentence.
Less than a month after he was sentenced to prison, Van Huizen was moved from the Draper facility to the Daggett County jail. He is one of about 80 prison inmates housed at the county jail.
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