Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

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The juvenile court asserted emergency jurisdiction over seven-year-old A.T., whose mentally ill mother had taken him from Washington state to California in violation of Washington family court orders. The court detained A.T., placed him temporarily with his father in Washington, and initiated contact with the Washington family court to address which state had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). In the meantime, the Wiyot Tribe intervened and, with A.T.’s mother asserted Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required the court to retain jurisdiction in California.The juvenile court determined ICWA was inapplicable and that the Washington family court had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and dismissed the dependency action in favor of the family court proceedings in Washington. The court of appeal affirmed. The juvenile court properly applied the UCCJEA and dismissed the dependency action in favor of family court proceedings in Washington state after finding ICWA inapplicable because the child had been placed with his non-offending parent. ICWA and the related California statutory scheme expressly focus on the removal of Indian children from their homes and parents and placement in foster or adoptive homes. View "In re A.T." on Justia Law

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Defendant Eduardo Lopez, Jr. committed murder at age 17. Following his conviction, defendant received a statutorily-mandated sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), ruling that “the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” Accordingly, in 2017, the trial court held a two-day resentencing hearing at which it heard testimony from the arresting police officer, several members of the murder victim’s family, an addiction psychiatrist, a forensic psychologist, several members of the defendant’s family, and the defendant. Following the hearing, taking into consideration the record before it, “the nature and circumstances of the underlying crime, the characteristics of the defendant, and the traditional sentencing factors,” the court imposed a sentence of 45 years to life. Defendant appealed that sentence, arguing 45-year-to-life constituted a de facto equivalent of of lifetime imprisonment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The New Hampshire Supreme Court held the trial court did not err in determining that the 45-year-to-life sentence it imposed, under which defendant had an opportunity to be considered for parole when he reached 62 years of age, was not a de facto life sentence under the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Accordingly, the sentence was affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Lopez, Jr." on Justia Law

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In November 2017, M.S. was charged with third degree assault of a King County Metro bus driver. M.S. approached the driver’s side window of a King County bus while it was parked. When the bus driver leaned out the driver’s side window to speak to M.S., M.S. squirted urine from a plastic bottle at the bus driver. M.S. pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of fourth degree assault and requested a deferred disposition of the criminal assault charge. The court also asked M.S. if he understood that the court could impose a manifest injustice sentence outside the standard range if it found aggravating factors. The court did not mention at the hearing or in the plea agreement any existing aggravating factors it could rely on if it did impose a manifest injustice sentence. The court granted M.S.’s request for a deferred disposition and in it required M.S. to comply with a number of conditions of community supervision. The trial court ultimately sentenced M.S. to a manifest injustice disposition based on facts and aggravating factors that M.S. had no notice of at the time of his plea. The Court of Appeals affirmed M.S.’s sentence and rejected M.S.’s argument that any right to notice of the factual basis of a manifest injustice disposition existed prior to pleading guilty. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether a juvenile, before entering a guilty plea in a criminal proceeding, had a statutory or constitutional due process right to notice of the factual basis of and the intent to seek a manifest injustice disposition. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that a juvenile has a right to notice of the factual basis necessary to support a manifest injustice sentence before deciding to plead guilty. View "Washington v. M.S." on Justia Law

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In 2017, D.L., a 14-year-old boy, was charged with three counts of first degree rape and one count of attempted first degree rape of his 5-year-old half brother. At the time, D.L. had no prior criminal history. D.L. successfully negotiated a plea deal with the prosecutor, reducing the charges to a single count of first degree attempted child molestation. D.L. stipulated in his plea agreement that the trial court could use the probable cause statement to determine the facts that supported his conviction. But when the court imposed the manifest injustice disposition, it relied on three facts that were not in the probable cause affidavit: (1) that D.L.’s victim had a cognitive disability; (2) that D.L. refused accountability; and (3) that D.L. would not cooperate with treatment. This case asked the Washington Supreme Court whether due process required that the State give a juvenile notice of these specific facts before pleading guilty if they will be used to justify a manifest injustice disposition. "Ultimately, due process requires that juveniles be treated in a manner that is fundamentally fair. ... Without adequate notice, juveniles and their attorneys cannot predict which facts might be unearthed and weaponized to extend the juvenile’s sentence after the plea. This lack of notice causes unfair surprise to young defendants and serves only to undermine juveniles’ and their families’ trust in our juvenile justice system. Our adult defendants in Washington are not treated so unfairly and neither should we so treat our juveniles." As a result, the manifest injustice disposition was improperly imposed. As D.L. already served his sentence and this case was technically moot; the Court resolved this legal issue without modifying D.L.’s sentence. View "Washington v. D.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the juvenile court finding Juvenile in criminal contempt, holding that the juvenile court judge abused her discretion.Juvenile, who was sixteen years old, was before the juvenile court judge for a hearing on alleged violations of conditions of her release, called the judge a "dumb, white bitch." For this statement the judge found Juvenile in criminal contempt. Thereafter, the judge sentenced Juvenile to ninety days, the maximum sentence under rule 43. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of contempt, holding that the judge abused her discretion by not taking into account Juvenile's status as a child when she imposed a ninety-day criminal sentence and did not comply with the requirements of Mass. R. Crim. P. 43 and 44. View "Commonwealth v. Ulani U." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court in this case and held that the aggravated indecent liberties statute, Kan. Stat. Ann. 21-5506(b)(1), is not vague or overbroad and does not violate equal protection as applied.The State charged A.B., who was then a fourteen-year-old girl, with aggravated indecent liberties with a child for having sex with a then fourteen-year-old boy. The State first charged A.B. with unlawful voluntary sexual relations under Kan. Stat. Ann. 21-5507, commonly known as the "Romeo and Juliet" statute, but the district court dismissed the charge because A.B. was a few months younger than the boy. In doing so, the court relied on In re E.R., 197 P.3d 870 (Kan. 2008), which held that the statute requires the offender to be older than the victim. The State then recharged A.B. with the more severe crime of aggravated indecent liberties with a child under section 21-5506(b)(1). The district court subsequently declared section 21-5506(b)(1) unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) section 21-5506(b)(1) is not vague or overbroad and does not violate equal protection; and (2) E.R. which held that section 21-5507 requires the offender to be older than the other participant in the sexual relations criminalized by the statute, is overruled. View "In re A.B." on Justia Law

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Applicant Steven Thomas was 16 when he committed capital murder. When he was 19, the juvenile court waived its exclusive jurisdiction and transferred Applicant’s case to district court, where Applicant pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of murder. Decades passed. Applicant did not appeal his transfer or his case or file a writ of habeas corpus. Then, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided Moon v. Texas, 451 S.W.3d 28 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014), which held that if an order waiving juvenile jurisdiction did not contain factually-supported, case-specific findings, then the order is invalid, and the district court never acquires jurisdiction. Based upon Moon, Applicant argued that because the order waiving juvenile jurisdiction did not contain factually-supported, case-specific findings, it was invalid, and thus the district court never acquired jurisdiction. The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the type of findings Moon required were neither grounded in the text of the transfer statute, nor in Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), the Supreme Court precedent that it purportedly relied upon in Moon. "Requiring them may be good policy, but the lack of case-specific findings has nothing to do with jurisdiction, fundamental constitutional rights, or even the transfer statute itself. The juvenile court’s transfer order in this case may have lacked factually-supported, case-specific findings, but that did not make that order invalid or deprive the district court of jurisdiction." Consequently, the Court determined Applicant was not entitled to habeas corpus relief. View "Ex parte Steven Thomas" on Justia Law

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Juvenile S.R. appealed a family division order granting the Department for Children and Families' (DCF) request to place him in a secure out-of-state psychiatric residential treatment facility pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5926. In November 2019, mother stipulated that S.R. was CHINS. The stipulated merits order indicated that S.R. and mother were homeless, mother needed to undergo a medical procedure that would preclude her from caring for S.R., and S.R. had mental health and behavioral needs that needed continued treatment. The stipulated order included a statement that S.R. did not meet criteria for voluntary or involuntary mental health admission. Mother stipulated that she was unable to meet S.R.’s needs for stability, housing, and mental and behavioral health services. The COVID-19 pandemic struck, delaying court hearings. Over the following months, S.R. moved through a series of ten to twelve placements. The constant changes in placement prevented S.R. from establishing any therapeutic connections with service providers and also inhibited S.R.’s educational progress. S.R. was charged with delinquency several times after he reportedly became abusive during three of his placements. DCF, Mother and S.R.'s guardian ad litem eventually agreed on a placement in Harbor Point, Virginia. S.R. himself objected to placement at Harbor Point, and to any other placement out-of-state, unless a program could be found in New York, where his mother was living at the time of the hearing. The court ultimately granted DCF’s motion for out-of-state placement, finding that there were no equivalent facilities in Vermont, and that placement at Harbor Point was in S.R.’s best interest. On appeal, S.R. argued the court erred in granting the motion for out-of-state placement in the absence of any psychiatric or psychological evaluation supporting a conclusion that psychiatric residential treatment was necessary for him. He contended his placement was akin to the involuntary commitment of an adult, and that involuntary commitment decisions had to be supported by full psychiatric evaluations and expert testimony. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the order was not supported by sufficient evidence, and reversed. "While we have no doubt that everyone involved in the proceeding below was concerned with S.R.’s best interest and acted in good faith, and it may be that DCF’s position is ultimately adequately supported, the record simply does not contain the sort of expert evidence required to support long-term placement in a locked psychiatric residential treatment facility over S.R.’s objection." View "In re S.R., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the motion for attorney fees and expenses against the State by the intervenor in a juvenile proceeding who successfully appealed a final order during the pendency of the case, holding that the State's limited waiver of sovereign immunity set forth in Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-1804(1) did not apply to the fees and expenses sought.On appeal, the parties disputed whether the juvenile proceedings were a civil action and whether they were brought by the State and whether the State was substantially justified in its position. The Supreme Court held (1) the State's position in bringing and maintaining the underlying petition for adjudication was substantially justified; and (2) accordingly, no statute provided for the recovery of the intervenor's attorney fees and expenses incurred in this appeal. View "In re Interest of A.A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the dispositional order imposed after an adjudication that juvenile Timothy Silva committed manslaughter, holding that the court did not err in committing him to detention.Silva was sixteen years old when he lost control of a vehicle and caused the death of three passengers and serious injuries to a fourth. The juvenile court adjudicated Silva to have committed one count of manslaughter and committed him to Long Creek Youth Development Center for an undetermined period of up Silva's twenty-first birthday. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the court's disposition was neither error nor an abuse of discretion. View "State v. Silva" on Justia Law