Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Hunter Fussell was indicted for a first degree rape of a victim under the age of thirteen that he was alleged to have committed on or shortly after his fifteenth birthday. Defendant filed motions contending that the automatic transfer provision of Article 305(A) violated several constitutional provisions, both state and federal, as well as evolving United States Supreme Court jurisprudence recognizing the special characteristics of juveniles that could affect their capabilities and culpability. In response, the district court ultimately ruled that this automatic transfer provision violates due process and that a transfer hearing, comparable to the one provided in Children’s Code art. 862,1 was constitutionally required before a juvenile could be transferred to a district court exercising criminal jurisdiction. The party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears a heavy burden in proving that statute unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined defendant failed to carry the burden of showing Article 305(A) was unconstitutional. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the district court's ruling, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana vs. Fussell" on Justia Law

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After D.W. was found unfit for juvenile treatment based on the allegation that, at age 17, he committed second degree murder under the theory of natural and probable consequences, the juvenile court transferred his case to adult court. Then the California Legislature eliminated liability for murder under the theory of natural and probable consequences. The Court of Appeal held that D.W. was entitled to a new transfer hearing and remanded to the juvenile court to vacate its orders transferring his case to adult court. The court held that D.W. was eligible for transfer irrespective of his liability for murder, and because any change in D.W.'s liability for murder would have no effect on the transfer decision itself. The court reasoned that eliminating the requirement that the People prove a prima facie case leaves the minor with no opportunity to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence of the offense alleged. Furthermore, the Judicial Council amended certain rules of court in light of Proposition 57 to retain the requirement that the People establish a prima facie case of the alleged offense. The court held that the juvenile court must consider D.W.'s fitness in light of the offense alleged in the petition. The court explained that the gravity of the offense alleged in the petition was not irrelevant to the court's evaluation of a minor's fitness for juvenile treatment, and the juvenile court would not presume that the juvenile court would find D.W. unfit if he were alleged to have committed an assault with a deadly weapon on a natural and probable consequences theory rather than second degree murder. View "D.W. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The State of Colorado filed a delinquency petition against B.B.A.M., charging him with one count of third degree burglary and three counts of criminal mischief. B.B.A.M.’s counsel filed a motion to determine competency. Because the court felt it lacked adequate information to make a preliminary finding regarding B.B.A.M.’s competency, it ordered the Colorado Department of Human Services (“DHS”) to conduct an outpatient competency evaluation. The competency evaluator filed a report in which she concluded B.B.A.M. was incompetent to proceed, determined there was a likelihood of restoring him to competency, and recommended the restoration services she deemed appropriate. Based on the evaluator’s report, the court made a preliminary finding of incompetency. Since neither party requested a competency hearing within ten days, the court made the preliminary finding of incompetency a final determination. Proceedings were suspended, and B.B.A.M. was ordered to receive outpatient services designed to restore him to competency. Following the provision of those services, the court ordered, over his objection, a second competency evaluation to determine whether he had been restored to competency. B.B.A.M. appealed, but the district court upheld the juvenile court’s order. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the relevant statutes did not permit a juvenile court to order a second competency evaluation to determine whether a juvenile has been restored to competency; the district court erred in affirming the juvenile court’s order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order and remanded with instructions to return the case to the juvenile court for a restoration review or a restoration hearing. View "In re Colorado v. B.B.A.M." on Justia Law

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B.B. was charged with aggravated assault based on allegations from August 2016. In November 2018, B.B. was 20 years old, and filed a motion for youthful-offender status based on his age in 2016 . B.B. struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction, and his residential and employment situations were “unstable.” The State opposed the motion. There was prima facie evidence that B.B. “engaged in a new violent act” while he was “under the influence of alcohol,” even though B.B. was underage and was subject to a condition of release that required him to refrain from drinking alcohol. The youthful-offender statutory scheme would have allowed, if the criminal defendant was under twenty-two years old and was at least twelve years old at the time of the alleged offense, a motion to be filed with the criminal division requesting youthful-offender status. Attaining that status would provide for the defendant to obtain a battery of counseling and rehabilitation in addition to any punishment determined by the court. Only if the court finds that public safety will be protected may the court then go on to consider the other statutory factors. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that B.B. had not met his burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that public safety would be protected if he were granted youthful-offender status, and denied the motion. B.B. requested permission to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, which was granted. However, finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "In re B.B., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal joined the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Districts in holding that Senate Bill No. 1391, which eliminates the district attorneys' ability to seek transfer of 14 and 15 year olds from juvenile court to criminal court, is constitutional. Petitioner, who was 15 years old at the time of the offenses, sought a writ of mandate requiring the trial court to vacate its order denying his motion to remand his case to juvenile court. The court granted a peremptory writ of mandate directing the superior court to vacate its order, and remanded his case to the juvenile court. View "Narith S. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Jones is serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for a 1994 murder he committed when he was 19 years old. In 2018, Jones filed a petition to recall his sentence, citing Penal Code 1170(d)(2), which applies to a defendant who is serving an LWOP sentence for an offense committed when the defendant was “under 18 years of age” and who has been incarcerated for at least 15 years. The court of appeal upheld the denial of relief, rejecting an argument that section 1170(d)(2) violates equal protection because it denies LWOP offenders ages 18-25 the same opportunity to petition for resentencing that is afforded to similarly-situated juvenile offenders without any rational basis for doing so. LWOP offenders who were 18-25 years old when they committed their offenses are adult offenders, not similarly situated to juvenile offenders. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly found that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.” To determine the age at which the diminished culpability of a youthful offender should no longer result in a categorically different sentence, a line must be drawn. The Legislature could reasonably decide that for LWOP offenders, the line should be drawn at age 18, rather than at some later date when the brain is fully developed. Drawing a bright line at age 18 establishes an objective and easily implemented measure, which has been used by the U.S. Supreme Court. View "In re Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the juvenile court placing Giavonni P. At the Lincoln Regional Center (LRC), holding that the juvenile court had the authority to place Giavonni at the LRC on a specific date or otherwise. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services appealed, arguing that the placement orders usurped the LRC's statutory authority to administer and manage its patient admission and discharge process. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the order in this case was final; (2) this Court reaches the merits of these appeals under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine; (3) the juvenile court had the authority to order this placement; and (4) while an adult facility was not the optimal choice for a juvenile offender, Giavonni's placement at the LRC was in his best interests at the time of his placement. View "In re Interest of Giavonni P." on Justia Law

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The Santa Clara County District Attorney filed juvenile wardship petitions (Welf. & Inst. Code 602(a)) alleging that R.E., born in June 2000 and a ward of the juvenile court since 2016, committed two first-degree burglaries and moved to transfer R.E. to adult criminal court. (section 707(a)) In June 2017, R.E. had been ordered to a ranch program following his involvement in carjacking, vehicle theft, and robbery. He completed the program's custodial portion but, after testing positive for drugs and missing school, was returned to the ranch. R.E. was “failed” from the program. R.E.’s supervising probation counselor testified that although he had recommended that R.E. return to the ranch, his recommendation had changed because there would not be enough time for R.E. to complete all of the programs before he turned 19; the ranch and aftercare program could not accommodate 19-year-olds. The juvenile court granted the motion to transfer, noting that, despite believing that R.E. was amenable to treatment as a juvenile, it “need[ed] the ability to use custody as an incentive” and “confinement [in county jail] would not be an available disposition under juvenile law if [he] were found to have violated probation after turning 19.” The court of appeal vacated the transfer order. The juvenile court erred in concluding it would not have the authority to order R.E. into custody if he violated probation after turning 19. View "R.E. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Four months shy of his eighteenth birthday, petitioner Terrell Smith stabbed his friend Brandon Bennett (the victim) to death. When the victim's father Darryl Bennett walked in on the stabbing, Smith laughed at Bennett's anguish and attempted to stab Bennett to death as well. Following a jury trial, Smith was convicted and sentenced to thirty-five years' imprisonment for murder and thirty years' imprisonment for attempted murder, the sentences to be run concurrently. Despite receiving a sentence longer than the mandatory minimum, Smith argued the statute was unconstitutional because it placed juvenile and adult homicide offenders on equal footing for sentencing purposes, and the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, forbade such a result. In accordance with the overwhelming majority of states that have addressed similar arguments, the South Carolina Court held the mandatory minimum sentence imposed by section 16-3-20(A) of the South Carolina Code (2015) was constitutional as applied to juveniles, and affirmed Smith's convictions and sentences. View "South Carolina v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the juvenile court committing fifteen-year-old A.M. to the Department of Correction (DOC), holding that A.M. failed to demonstrate that he received ineffective assistance of counsel under the circumstances of this case. After a true finding of disorderly conduct, A.M. was placed on supervised probation. But due to A.M.'s conduct, the probation department recommended his placement with the DOC. After a disposition modification hearing, the juvenile court committed A.M. to the DOC for an indeterminate period. On appeal, A.M. argued that his attorney rendered ineffective assistance during the modification hearing. At issue in this case was whether the standard for deciding the claim was founded in the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel for a criminal proceeding or in the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. The Supreme Court held (1) a due process standard governs a child's claim that he received ineffective assistance in a disposition-modification hearing during his delinquency proceedings; and (2) A.M. received effective assistance of counsel during his modification hearing. View "A.M. v. State" on Justia Law