Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves a minor, Andrew M., who tested positive for methadone at birth and was placed in foster care. His biological parents, S.M. and A.M., failed to reunify with him. Despite this, the juvenile court decided not to terminate the parents' parental rights, citing the parental-benefit exception, which applies if a parent shows that they maintained regular visitation with the child, the child has a substantial, positive, emotional attachment to the parents, and terminating that attachment would be detrimental to the child even considering the benefit of a new, adoptive home.The Superior Court of Orange County had previously ordered Andrew to be removed from parental custody and provided the parents with reunification services. However, the parents failed to reunify with Andrew and their services were terminated. The court then scheduled a permanency planning hearing.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three reviewed the case. Andrew's appointed appellate counsel argued that the juvenile court's decision not to terminate the parents' parental rights was an abuse of discretion. The Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA), although a respondent in this appeal, supported Andrew's counsel's position. The court agreed with Andrew's counsel and the SSA, concluding that the circumstances did not support the application of the parental-benefit exception. The court reversed the lower court's order and remanded the matter with instructions. View "In re Andrew M." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Audrey Mae Lessner, who was convicted of felony child abuse under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-503(b)(i) (2023) after a bench trial. The charges stemmed from an incident where Lessner, while babysitting an 11-year-old child identified as FF, spanked the child eleven times with a belt as punishment for lying. The spanking resulted in significant bruising on the child's thigh. Lessner appealed her conviction, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by denying her motion to continue the trial and that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that she did not engage in reasonable corporal punishment.Prior to the trial in the District Court of Sweetwater County, Lessner had sought to represent herself, a request that the court granted after advising her of the risks. She later filed a motion for an extension of time, claiming that the prosecution was not assisting her in obtaining information for a subpoena. However, she later informed the court that she no longer needed an extension and was ready for trial. On the first day of the bench trial, Lessner filed a motion for an emergency hearing, asserting that she was not ready to proceed because the State was denying some discovery. The court denied her motion and proceeded with the trial.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. It found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Lessner's motion to continue the trial. The court also found that the State presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the physical injury inflicted on the child was not the result of reasonable corporal punishment. The court noted that Lessner's actions, including her decision to use a belt to avoid injuring her hand and her refusal to stop spanking the child other than to rest her arm, did not represent a method of correction but rather an adult who had lost control of her own responses. View "Lessner v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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In July 2023, the San Francisco Human Services Agency filed a petition alleging that three children were at risk due to the actions of their mother, M.S., and their alleged father, P.F. The Agency claimed that the children were at risk of suffering serious physical or emotional harm due to P.F.'s domestic violence towards M.S. and his substance abuse issues. The Agency also alleged that M.S. had allowed P.F. to stay in her home despite a restraining order against him. The juvenile court sustained the allegations in part, released the children to M.S., and ordered the family to participate in therapy. M.S. appealed this decision.The lower courts had previously reviewed this case and made several findings. The juvenile court found that the children were at substantial risk of suffering serious physical and/or emotional harm due to the domestic violence perpetrated by P.F. towards M.S. The court also found that P.F. had substance abuse issues which impeded his ability to care for the children. The court denied M.S.'s request to dismiss the case, declared the children dependents of the court, and ordered M.S. and the children to participate in family therapy.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Three affirmed the decision of the lower court. The court held that an alleged father constitutes a “parent” within the meaning of section 300, subdivision (b)(1). The court also found that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s declaration of dependency and that the court did not abuse its discretion by not granting M.S.'s request to dismiss the case and instead ordering family therapy. View "In re A.F." on Justia Law

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The case involves two petitioners, Daniel Dilly, Superintendent of the Rubenstein Juvenile Center (RJC), and Nancy Oldaker, Health Services Administrator at RJC, who were held in contempt of court by Judge Kurt Hall of the Circuit Court of Lewis County, West Virginia. The contempt charges arose from an incident involving a resident of RJC, identified as D.P., who suffered a broken jaw during a fight with other residents. The court had ordered that D.P. be taken off RJC grounds for an X-ray and that his mother be notified of his medical appointments. The court found that these orders were not adequately followed by the petitioners.The Circuit Court of Lewis County held a hearing to review D.P.'s placement and medical care, resulting in a "Medical Care Order" that directed RJC to schedule an appointment for D.P. with his oral surgeon and to allow D.P.'s mother to attend the appointment. The court also ordered RJC to provide a report concerning the incident that led to D.P.'s injury. When these orders were not fully complied with, the court held a "show cause" hearing and found both Superintendent Dilly and Ms. Oldaker in contempt of court, fining each of them $250.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia found that procedural errors in the lower court's contempt proceedings deprived the court of jurisdiction to impose such sanctions. The court noted that the lower court failed to provide the petitioners with adequate notice that they were facing indirect criminal contempt proceedings and did not afford them jury trials before imposing the fines. The court concluded that the contempt orders were void and granted the petitioners' requested writs of prohibition, thereby preventing the lower court from enforcing the contempt orders. View "State ex rel. Dilly v. Hall" on Justia Law

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James Massey was charged with gross sexual imposition, a class AA felony, and child abuse, a class C felony. The charges stemmed from an incident involving a minor, identified as T.T. During the trial, the State presented testimonies from T.T., law enforcement, medical staff, and a psychologist. Massey, in his defense, testified on his own behalf. The jury found Massey guilty of both charges.The case was first heard in the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District. At the close of the State's case, Massey moved for a judgment of acquittal under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29, which the court denied. The jury found Massey guilty of both charges, and he subsequently appealed the convictions.The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of North Dakota. Massey argued that the jury instruction for gross sexual imposition was improper and that the State's closing arguments constituted prosecutorial misconduct. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found no error in the use of "willfully" as the required mens rea in the jury instructions. Although the court acknowledged that the State made an improper "golden rule" argument during closing arguments, it concluded that Massey failed to demonstrate how he was prejudiced by these comments. The court affirmed the judgment of conviction. View "State v. Massey" on Justia Law

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In 2013, a minor identified as A.M. was tried as an adult and convicted for first-degree murder of a rival gang member, which he committed at the age of 14. He was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. In 2021, the superior court conditionally reversed the judgment and ordered a transfer hearing under Proposition 57, which prohibits trying a minor as an adult without a judicial determination of their fitness for juvenile court. The juvenile court conducted the hearing, granted the district attorney’s motion to transfer A.M.’s case to criminal court, and reinstated the judgment.A.M. appealed, arguing that his case should not have been transferred because he was 14 years old when he committed his crime. He also contended that Assembly Bill 333, which amended various provisions of Penal section 186.22, required striking the gang-murder special circumstance. The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District agreed with both of A.M.’s contentions.The court held that Senate Bill 1391, which amended Proposition 57 to prohibit the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds to adult criminal court, applied to A.M.'s case. The court reasoned that when the superior court conditionally reversed A.M.'s conviction and sentence, his case became nonfinal, and thus, Senate Bill 1391 applied. The court also held that Assembly Bill 333 applied retroactively to A.M.'s case, requiring the vacating of the jury's gang-murder special circumstance finding. The court reversed the order granting the district attorney’s motion to transfer A.M.’s case to criminal court, vacated the true finding on the gang-murder special circumstance, and struck the requirement for A.M. to register as a gang offender. The case was remanded to the juvenile court for further proceedings. View "In re A.M." on Justia Law

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The case involves a legal malpractice claim filed by minors N.W.M. and E.M., through their parents, against their former guardian ad litem (GAL), Patrice Langenbach, and her employer, the Defender Association of Philadelphia. The minors alleged that Langenbach acted negligently throughout her representation of them in a dependency matter and a corresponding termination of parental rights matter. The trial court dismissed all claims on grounds of immunity, asserting that Langenbach and the Defender Association were immune from suit under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity.On appeal, the Superior Court reversed the trial court's decision, holding that it was not within its authority to extend such immunity to GALs. The Superior Court maintained that it was not its role to make policy decisions or to expand existing legal doctrines, which it considered to be the prerogative of the Supreme Court or the General Assembly.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Superior Court's decision, concluding that GALs in juvenile dependency cases do not operate as an arm of the court and, therefore, are not entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. The court also clarified that the Superior Court is authorized to address novel legal issues, including those involving policy considerations. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. View "N.W.M. v. Langenbach" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Florida was asked to consider amendments to the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure. The amendments were in response to recent legislation and involved changes to several forms, including Forms 8.959 (Summons for Dependency Arraignment), 8.979 (Summons for Advisory Hearing), and 8.982 (Notice of Action for Advisory Hearing). Initially, the changes were only made to the English versions of the forms, and the Spanish and Creole translations were deleted to prevent inconsistencies. The Committee later requested that the forms be further amended with updated Spanish and Creole translations.The Supreme Court of Florida found that the Creole translations did not conform to the recent amendments to the English versions of the forms and contained errors. Therefore, the court decided to only amend the forms to include the Spanish translations at this time. The court requested that if the Committee wanted to amend the forms with Creole translations, they should file a new case proposing accurate Creole translations.The court ruled that the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure are to be amended as reflected in the appendix to the opinion. The amendments were to take effect immediately upon the release of the opinion. The court also clarified that the filing of a motion for rehearing would not alter the effective date of these amendments. View "In Re: Amendments to Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a defendant who was convicted for enticement of a child. The defendant had approached a ten-year-old girl, A.W., while she was walking her dog. He drove into the opposing lane of traffic to pull his truck up beside her, asked her personal questions, and made inappropriate comments. Based on these events and evidence of the defendant’s previous behavior with a five-year-old girl in Louisiana, a jury convicted the defendant of enticement of a child.The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove the offense of enticement. The court of appeals agreed with the defendant's argument, vacating his conviction on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the defendant had attempted to invite or persuade A.W. to enter his truck, or that he intended to commit unlawful sexual contact.The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado disagreed with the court of appeals' interpretation of the term "attempt" in the child enticement statute. The Supreme Court held that the term "attempt" in the statute should be interpreted according to its plain meaning, not as referring to the inchoate crime of "attempt" defined in another statute. The Supreme Court found that the defendant's words and actions, taken together and viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, constituted sufficient evidence for a reasonable person to conclude that the defendant attempted to invite or persuade the victim to enter his vehicle with the intent to commit unlawful sexual contact upon her. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ decision vacating the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case to the court of appeals to address his remaining appellate arguments. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The case involves a juvenile, Jeovani H., who was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution as a term and condition of his probation. Jeovani was charged with an act that would constitute the felony of first-degree assault, which was later amended to a misdemeanor of attempted third-degree assault. The incident involved Jeovani shoving another youth, causing the youth to fall and fracture his arm. As part of a plea agreement, Jeovani admitted to the amended petition and agreed that the amount of restitution owed to his victim for medical expenses was $2,553.05. However, he disputed his ability to pay that amount.The Hall County Court, sitting as a juvenile court, accepted Jeovani’s admission to the amended petition and ordered a predisposition investigation. At the disposition and restitution hearing, Jeovani’s mother testified about the family's financial situation and work schedules, arguing that Jeovani did not have the ability to pay the restitution amount. The State called Jeovani and a juvenile probation officer as witnesses, who testified about Jeovani's ability to work and earn money to pay the restitution.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the juvenile court's decision. The court found that Jeovani had the ability to pay the restitution within the 12-month period of his probationary term. The court also rejected Jeovani’s claim that he was not allowed an opportunity to present or cross-examine witnesses on the issue of restitution. The court concluded that the restitution order was consistent with Jeovani’s reformation and rehabilitation and was supported by the record. View "In re Interest of Jeovani H." on Justia Law