Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries
In re M.S.
M.S. and J.G. argued during a high school class. J.G. hit M.S. with a small book. J.G. was suspended for two days. About a month later, J.G. accused M.S. of taking her backpack. M.S. pulled a rectangular device with protruding antennas out of her bag, turned it on, and said “[t]ry that again, I’m going to tase you.” A spark erupted from the device. J.G. thought the device was a taser and retreated. The principal learned of the incident.The school resource officer, Reed, took custody of the device, identifying it as an “over-the-counter” stun gun. He did not know the weapon’s voltage and testified that the “capability” of a stun gun depended on its voltage. He initially opined that M.S.’s stun gun probably could not immobilize a person but later noted that it could immobilize a person of smaller stature, and, depending on their size, age, and medical condition, could “in some cases even cause death.” The juvenile court found that M.S. brought a stun gun into school, sustained the Penal Code 626.10(a) allegation, reduced the offense to a misdemeanor, adjudicated M.S. a ward of the court, and placed her in her mother’s custody with probation conditions. The court of appeal reversed. There was insufficient evidence to support a finding that the weapon was capable of temporarily immobilizing a person and, therefore, that it qualified as a stun gun under sections 626.10(a) and 244.5(a). View "In re M.S." on Justia Law
In re G.B.
A New Hampshire circuit court issued an adjudicatory order finding that G.B., a minor, had been neglected, but that respondents, G/B/'s adoptive parents, were not at fault for the neglect. Subsequently, the court issued a dispositional order awarding legal custody of G.B. to the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and requiring DCYF to seek placement for G.B. in a residential treatment facility. DCYF appealed both orders, and G.B.’s guardian ad litem (GAL), Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire (CASA), joined in appealing the dispositional order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it ruled that the respondents did not neglect G.B. The Court further concluded that, although the circuit court did not err by ruling G.B. a neglected child and ordering G.B.’s placement in a residential treatment facility, it failed to identify legally permissible primary and concurrent case plans in its dispositional order. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "In re G.B." on Justia Law
In the Interest of: T.W.
Appellant T.W. appealed a superior court order affirming a court of common pleas order denying his motion to suppress physical evidence and adjudicating Appellant delinquent for unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Appellant’s arrest for unlawful possession of a controlled substance arose from a vehicle stop and a subsequent Terry frisk. Upon frisking Appellant, a police officer of the Philadelphia Police Department felt a hard object in Appellant’s left pants pocket. Fearing that the unknown object could be a weapon, the officer reached into Appellant’s pocket and removed the object. Appellant was arrested for possessing the object and a subsequent search incident to arrest led to the discovery of a controlled substance on Appellant’s person. Before trial, Appellant made a motion to suppress the physical evidence recovered from his person, arguing that the police officer exceeded the scope of a permissible Terry frisk by reaching into Appellant’s pocket and removing an object during the frisk. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this matter to address the standards by which a police officer may remove an object from within a suspect’s clothing during a Terry frisk. The Court previously addressed this issue in Pennsylvania v. Taylor, 771 A.2d 1261 (Pa. 2001) (plurality). The Court's review in that case resulted in a plurality decision whereby the opinion announcing the judgment of the Court held that a police officer conducting a lawful Terry frisk could remove an object from within a suspect’s clothing if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the object is a weapon. "In light of the fact that Taylor did not produce a majority opinion, we reexamine the issue anew." View "In the Interest of: T.W." on Justia Law
In re Y.W.
The Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)), alleging Deshawn’s and Clairessa’s history of substance abuse and current use of marijuana placed one-year-old Y.W., and one-month-old Y.G., at risk of serious physical harm. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition and declared the children. dependents of the court, removed them from parental custody, and ordered the parents to complete substance abuse and domestic violence programs and to have monitored visitation with the children. At a hearing to select a permanent plan, the juvenile court terminated their parental rights, finding that returning the children to the parents would be detrimental, that the parents had not maintained regular and consistent visitation and contact, and that the children were adoptable.Based on the parents’ allegation that the Department failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1901, the court of appeal conditionally affirm the orders terminating parental rights, with directions to ensure the Department complies with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and related California law. Deshawn and Clairessa had each completed Judicial Council form ICWA-020, Parental Notification of Indian Status. Clairessa checked: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Deshawn checked: “I am or may be a member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized Indian tribe. View "In re Y.W." on Justia Law
In re Cole L.
In March 2020 LAPD officers responded to a call reporting “screaming, yelling, banging and slamming” at the family home. No one answered their initial requests to enter the residence. Ashley ultimately opened the door. The home was in disarray. The officers observed evidence of a domestic violence altercation. Two children in the home who were under age five were taken to the hospital. Blood and urine tests for both children were negative. Neither child had any marks or bruises that would indicate abuse or neglect. Ashley and Wesley were arrested for suspicion of injuring a child (Pen. Code 273a(a)), a charge that was not pursued. No domestic violence charges were filed.The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a dependency petition (Welfare and Institutions Code section 300(a) (serious physical harm inflicted non-accidentally) and (b)(1) (failure to protect). At the jurisdiction hearing nine months later, the juvenile court sustained both counts, finding “there is a long history of these parents having some domestic violence issues.” The court declared the children dependents of the juvenile court and ordered continued supervision by the Department while the children remained in Ashley’s home. The court of appeal reversed. There was insufficient evidence to support a finding the children were at substantial risk of serious physical harm by the time of the jurisdiction hearing. View "In re Cole L." on Justia Law
People v. Sands
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
California v. Montes
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
In re Miguel C.
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
Smith v. Alexander, et al.
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
Interest Of N.A.
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