Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2001, Sands was 24 years old when he committed special circumstance murder (Penal Code 187, 190.2(a)(10)) and was sentenced to a prison term of life without the possibility of parole. The trial court denied his motion, seeking to develop a record of mitigating circumstances for an eventual youth offender parole hearing under “Franklin.”The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting his Equal Protection argument. The statute provides an opportunity for release (via youth offender parole hearings) to most persons convicted of crimes committed before the age of 26 in their 15th, 20th, or 25th year of incarceration, depending on the sentence imposed for their “[c]ontrolling offense,” sections 3051(a)(2)(B), (b)(1)-(4). The statute excludes offenders who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed at age 18-25. The Legislature had a rational basis to distinguish between offenders with the same sentence (life without parole) based on their age. For juvenile offenders, such a sentence may violate the Eighth Amendment but the same sentence does not violate the Eighth Amendment when imposed on an adult, even an adult under the age of 26. The Legislature could rationally decide to remedy unconstitutional sentences but go no further. View "People v. Sands" on Justia Law

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In 2003, defendant-appellant Louis Montes was convicted of, among other things, the special circumstance murder of April Peake (the victim) which he committed when he was 17 years old. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). After the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 465 (2012), the California Supreme Court decided that juveniles sentenced to LWOP were entitled to a hearing in order to have an opportunity to present information as to juvenile characteristics and circumstances at the time the offense was committed. Defendant petitioned to recall his sentence pursuant to Penal Code section 1170(d)(2). The superior court granted the petition, recalled defendant’s sentence, and resentenced him to LWOP. In this appeal, defendant contended the superior court abused its discretion by applying the wrong legal standard during resentencing. He further contended the court should have sua sponte transferred this matter to the juvenile court for a transfer/fitness hearing pursuant to Proposition 57 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 8, 2016)). The Court of Appeal rejected defendant’s first contention but found merit in the second: in supplemental briefing, the parties agreed, and the Court concurred, the minute order of the resentencing hearing had to be corrected, and a new abstract of judgment should issue. Accordingly, the Court conditionally reversed defendant’s sentence and remanded for defendant to receive a transfer/fitness hearing in the juvenile court. View "California v. Montes" on Justia Law

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Before committing a minor to the California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the state’s most restrictive placement for its most severe juvenile offenders, the law required the juvenile court to find both that the placement would probably benefit the minor, and that less restrictive options would be either ineffective or inappropriate. In this case, we address an issue anticipated, but not decided, in In re Carlos J., 22 Cal.App.5th 1 (2018), namely, what constitutes substantial evidence to support a DJJ commitment when the minor has submitted reliable evidence that such a placement would undermine the minor’s specific rehabilitative needs, and where the minor’s own history does not demonstrate that less restrictive options would not work? The Court of Appeal concluded the State had to provide some contrary evidence that would enable the juvenile court to make a comparative analysis of the placement options before it concludes the minor will probably benefit from DJJ, and that less restrictive options would be ineffective or inappropriate. Here, expert testimony indicated that placing this minor in DJJ would be counterproductive because it would likely assure his entrenchment in gang culture and, due to the ready availability of drugs in DJJ facilities, undermine efforts to treat and improve a significant substance abuse disorder that led to a single episode of violent criminal behavior over the course of a few hours. Beyond identifying that substance abuse treatment was available at DJJ, the State introduced no responsive evidence. So, as in Carlos J., the Court reversed and remanded in an opinion that focused "not on the substantive correctness of the juvenile court’s conclusion, but on the procedural requirement that there be evidence in the record to support whatever conclusion the court reaches." On remand, given intervening changes to the juvenile court law, the trial court had to first make a threshold finding as to whether juvenile justice realignment now precluded commitment to DJJ. View "In re Miguel C." on Justia Law

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Steven Smith, as conservator of the estate of B.J. (minor), appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Elizabeth Alexander, Amanda Buchanan, and Michael Key on Smith's claims alleging violations of policies promulgated by the State Department of Human Resources ("the State DHR"), negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage. In May 2015, Key was employed by the Cullman County DHR as a foster-care supervisor, responsible for supervising Cullman County DHR caseworkers. Key reported to Buchanan, who oversaw the Child Family Services Program, the Child Protective Services Program, and the Foster Care Program for the Cullman County DHR. Buchanan in turn reported to Alexander, the director of the Cullman County DHR. B.J. was placed in the custody of the Cullman County DHR when he was three years old after having suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect at the hands of family members. In 2002, the trial court awarded the Cullman County DHR legal guardianship and permanent custody of B.J. While in the custody of the Cullman County DHR, B.J. was placed in a number of foster homes, group homes, residential facilities, hospitals, and psychiatric institutions. In July 2014, B.J. was placed by the Cullman County DHR at the Altapointe Group Home. While there, B.J. underwent an assessment, which revealed he had regularly exhibited violent outbursts and physically aggressive behavior toward others; he had a history of depression, suicide and delusional thinking; and engaged in impulsive and delinquent behavior. B.J. would ultimately be arrested for such behavior towards others. B.J. had personal funds with which he could post bail, but the decision was made he should have remained in jail pending an arrangement for further mental health counseling. Smith argued defendants' decisions leaving B.J. incarcerated did not follow departmental policies of least-restrictive-placement-possible, and as such, caused B.J. irreparable harm. The Alabama Supreme Court found that each crucial decision made by the defendants -- i.e., the decisions not to place B.J. at the Gateway facility and not to post B.J.'s bond before his court date -- were made with B.J.'s best interests in mind after consideration of all the relevant recommendations and factors. Accordingly, Smith failed to provide substantial evidence demonstrating that the defendants acted willfully in dealing with B.J. and that, therefore, they were not entitled to the protection of State-agent immunity. View "Smith v. Alexander, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court declaring N.A. a delinquent child, holding that the circuit court erred by finding that Officer Brandon Bassett did not use excessive force against N.A.When responding to a possible drive-by shooting at N.A.'s family's apartment, Officer Bassett was told by N.A. that the messages she had sent her mother reporting the drive-by shooting were a prank. Officer Bassett, believing that N.A. was impeding the investigation, grabbed N.A., pulled her down onto a mattress on the floor and handcuffed her. N.A. kicked Officer Bassett during the altercation. The State subsequently brought this petition alleging that because she assaulted a law enforcement officer, N.A. was a delinquent child. The circuit court declared N.A. to be a delinquent child. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Officer Bassett used excessive force to detain N.A. and, on remand, the circuit court should complete the analysis of N.A.'s self-defense claim. View "Interest Of N.A." on Justia Law

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In 1995, petitioner Timothy Haag was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for a crime he committed at the age of 17. In 2018, at a Miller-fix resentencing conducted pursuant to RCW 10.95.030, the resentencing court expressly found that “Haag is not irretrievably depraved nor irreparably corrupt.” Yet the court resentenced Haag to a term of 46 years to life; the earliest that he could be released is at the age of 63. Haag sought review by the Washington Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erroneously emphasized retribution over mitigation and that his sentence amounted to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. To this, the Supreme Court agreed, holding the resentencing court erred because it gave undue emphasis to retributive factors over mitigating factors. The Court also held Haag’s 46-year minimum term amounts to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Washington v. Haag" on Justia Law

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In an action arising from a constitutional challenge to Missouri's remedial parole review process for individuals sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole for homicide offenses committed as juveniles, a class of Missouri inmates who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole for such juvenile homicide offenses filed suit claiming that Missouri's parole review policies and practices violate their rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and their rights to due process of law under the U.S. Constitution and the Missouri Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs.The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court that Missouri's policies and practices, when implemented and considered in combination, worked to deprive plaintiffs of their Eighth Amendment right to a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based upon demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The court explained that, because the parole review process in place under Senate Bill 590 failed to adequately ensure that juveniles whose crimes reflect only transient immaturity—and who have since matured—will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence, it violated the Eighth Amendment.The court affirmed the order of the district court determining that the parole review process of SB 590 violated plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment rights, and affirmed the order determining that Missouri cannot use a risk assessment tool in its revised parole proceedings unless it has been developed to address the unique circumstances of the JLWOP Class. The court vacated the order regarding appointment of counsel and remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the court denied plaintiffs' motion to strike. View "Brown v. Precythe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals finding that lifetime registration requirements under the Kansas Offender Registration Act (KORA), Kan. Stat. Ann. 22-4906(c), were not punishment as applied N.R. and therefore did not trigger any constitutional provisions identified by N.R., holding that there was no error.N.R. pled guilty to rape and was adjudicated a juvenile offender. The gestate judge ordered N.R. to register as a sex offender for five years under KORA. Just before N.R.'s registration period was about to expire, the legislature amended KORA. As a result, N.R. was required to register for life. Later, the State charged N.R. for failing to register. N.R. filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that KORA's mandatory lifetime registration requirements for juvenile sex offenders violates the federal and state constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment and the federal constitutional provision against ex post facto punishment. The district court found Defendant guilty. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that KORA's mandatory lifetime registration requirements as applied to N.R. are not punishment and therefore do not violate the federal Ex Post Facto Clause or the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the Kansas and United States Constitutions. View "State v. N.R." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal concluded that Penal Code section 3051, subdivision (h) does not violate equal protection, and the exclusion of offenders sentenced under the Three Strikes law from youth offender parole consideration is rationally related to a legitimate penal interest. The court also concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on appellant's clam that the imposition of the five-year enhancement under Penal Code section 667, subdivision (a) resulted in an unauthorized sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the postjudgment order. View "People v. Moore" on Justia Law

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S.H.R. petitioned the superior court for the appointment of a guardian of his person and for judicial findings that would enable him to petition the USCIS to classify him as a special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) under federal immigration law. The superior court denied both petitions.The Court of Appeal concluded that S.H.R. had the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the facts supporting SIJ status. Because the trial court found his evidence did not support the requested findings, S.H.R. has the burden on appeal of showing that he is entitled to the SIJ findings as a matter of law. In this case, S.H.R. has failed to meet his burden by failing to prove parental abandonment or neglect and that reunification was not viable. Therefore, the court affirmed the superior court's denial of the SIJ petition. The denial of the SIJ petition rendered the guardianship petition moot, and thus the court also affirmed the denial of that petition. View "S.H.R. v. Rivas" on Justia Law