Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania considered whether a violation of a juvenile defendant's Fifth Amendment right is subject to appellate review for harmless error. The case involved Nazeer Taylor, who was charged with several serious felony offenses as a juvenile. The juvenile court transferred Taylor's case to adult criminal court, considering Taylor's refusal to admit guilt for his alleged offenses as a factor in its decision. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania previously held that such consideration violated Taylor's Fifth Amendment right. In this appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that the violation constituted a structural error, not subject to a harmless error review. Given Taylor's current age of 27, neither the juvenile nor the adult criminal court had the statutory authority to conduct a new certification hearing. Consequently, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court reversing Taylor's conviction and discharging him. View "Commonwealth v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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In this case, a Superior Court judge in Massachusetts sought guidance from the Supreme Judicial Court on three questions involving the pretrial confinement of a juvenile charged with murder. The juvenile, who was sixteen years old when he was charged with second-degree murder, was initially held without bail at a Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility due to a "courtesy" arrangement with the county sheriff. As the juvenile neared his eighteenth birthday, he was informed that he would be moved to an adult facility. In response, a Superior Court judge released him on personal recognizance on the murder charge and set bail on a related non-murder charge, ordering that he stay at the DYS facility.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was asked to determine: 1) whether a Superior Court judge can commit a person under age eighteen charged with murder to DYS's care as a pre-trial detainee; 2) if not, can a Superior Court judge set bail on a charge related to, but other than murder, so that the person under eighteen is not held on bail on the murder charge and is committed to DYS's care; and 3) if the answers to questions 1 and 2 are "No," is the last paragraph of G. L. c. 119, § 68 (which mandates that juveniles charged with murder be committed to the custody of the sheriff) unconstitutional?The Supreme Judicial Court declined to answer the third question due to mootness, as the defendant had since turned eighteen and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Regarding the first two questions, the court referred to its previous ruling in Nicholas-Taylor v. Commonwealth and affirmed that a Superior Court judge does not have the authority to commit a juvenile defendant charged with murder to the custody of DYS, nor can they sidestep this requirement by committing the juvenile to DYS on a related non-murder offense. Therefore, the answers to the first and second questions were "No." View "Commonwealth v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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In 2004, De’Andre Dampier was convicted of a capital murder committed during an auto-dealership robbery when he was 16 years old. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, which was the only statutory sentence available at the time. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that imposing mandatory life-without-parole sentences on juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment. Based on this ruling, the Supreme Court of Mississippi granted Dampier’s request to seek post-conviction relief from his life-without-parole sentence. However, before the trial court addressed any of the factors from the US Supreme Court decision, it vacated Dampier’s life-without-parole sentence. Dampier then requested that a jury be convened to decide if he should be sentenced to life with or without parole, but the trial judge denied this request. After a hearing in which the trial judge considered the factors from the US Supreme Court decision, the judge reimposed a sentence of life in prison without parole.The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the decisions of the lower courts, holding that Dampier did not have a statutory right to be sentenced by a jury. The court emphasized that the decision to be made by the trial court was whether Dampier was entitled to post-conviction relief from his life-without-parole sentence, imposed for a crime committed when he was a juvenile. The court also agreed with the lower courts that the trial judge did not err by denying Dampier’s request for jury sentencing. Furthermore, the court agreed with the lower courts that the trial court did not err by ruling that, after a careful consideration of the factors from the US Supreme Court decision, life without parole was an appropriate sentence for Dampier’s crime. View "Dampier v. State of Mississippi" on Justia Law

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C.P. struck the victim on her head with a mallet, causing significant injuries. The issue on review was whether the juvenile court misconstrued the governing statute, ORS 419A.258, in ordering disclosure of confidential records in youth’s file to the victim before youth’s delinquency dispositional hearing. The Oregon Court of Appeals concluded that the victim was unable to show that disclosure was “necessary to serve a legitimate need” of the requesting party, as required by ORS 419A.258(7). The Oregon Supreme Court concluded after review of the text, context, and legislative history of ORS 419A.258 that the statute, properly construed, gave juvenile courts some discretion in weighing the interests at stake before determining whether and to what extent disclosure was necessary to serve a legitimate need of the person seeking disclosure under the circumstances of a given case. The Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of what was necessary to serve a victim’s legitimate need and concluded that the juvenile court in this case acted within the range of discretion granted by the statute in ordering disclosure to the victim. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the juvenile court's order was affirmed. court. View "Oregon v. C. P." on Justia Law

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A jury found that Child-Respondent Antonio M. (Child) committed felony murder, attempted armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, child abuse, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The State charged Child as a participant in the fatal shooting of Fabian Lopez (Victim) at Frenger Park in Las Cruces. Uncontested evidence at Child’s adjudicatory hearing established that M.M. and two other participants killed Victim in his car in the course of a drug deal. During opening statements and closing arguments, defense counsel’s theory of the case was that the State could not present sufficient evidence of Child’s participation in the crime and that the robbery and resulting homicide were unplanned and unintended results of a simple drug purchase. Defense counsel did not challenge Child’s presence in the car that transported M.M. to and from the park. On appeal, Child challenged the admission of three in-court identifications under federal and state due process. The Court of Appeals reversed for plain error, finding that the in-court identifications were impermissibly suggestive and thereby violated Child’s due process right to a fair trial under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The New Mexico Supreme Court determine that identity was not at issue regarding the testimony of the three relevant witnesses and thus that Child’s due process rights were not violated by the relevant in-court identifications. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. View "New Mexico v. Antonio M." on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the State’s application to review the court of appeal’s determination that the State failed to prove that 16-year-old D.W. was the person who entered a sheriff’s vehicle and stole firearms from inside it, and therefore that the evidence was insufficient to support the delinquency adjudication for burglary involving a firearm, La. R.S. 14:62, and theft of a firearm, La. R.S. 14:67.15. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court found the State presented sufficient evidence that D.W. was a principal, in accordance with La. R.S. 14:24, to these felony-grade delinquent acts regardless of whether he personally entered the vehicle and took the firearms that were inside it himself. Therefore, the Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstated the delinquency adjudication and dispositions imposed by the juvenile court, which were then affirmed. View "Louisiana in the interest of D.W." on Justia Law

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While on juvenile parole related to a commitment to Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) in an earlier case, B.Y. was adjudicated to be within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court for interfering with a peace officer. Based on that conduct, the juvenile court imposed a new disposition, which also committed B.Y. to OYA custody, to commence at the conclusion of his existing commitment. B.Y. challenged that order, contending that the juvenile court lacked authority to impose consecutive commitments. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals agreed with B.Y. and reversed the juvenile court. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: “the statutory text neither expressly permits nor expressly prohibits the imposition of consecutive commitments. The statutory scheme does, however, confer broad authority on the juvenile court to fashion appropriate dispositions; that stands in contrast to the criminal code, where courts’ sentencing authority is more circumscribed. Given that contrast, the fact that the legislature did not explicitly provide for consecutive commitments in a circumstance such as this is unsurprising. In light of the wide latitude that the legislature has chosen to give juvenile courts, it is more reasonable to expect that if the legislature had intended to limit the juvenile court’s ability to impose consecutive commitments in this circumstance, the legislature would have indicated as much.” View "Oregon v. B. Y." on Justia Law

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At age 16, defendant Tory Bratton confessed to robbing a local market, with an accomplice, shooting the clerk dead, and taking $184. At his trial, his counsel argued that defendant’s confession was false and that he did not participate in the robbery at all. However, trial counsel did not argue that, even if defendant did participate, he was not the shooter. Defendant was convicted of (among other things) first degree murder, with a personal firearm use enhancement and felony-murder special circumstances. He appealed; the Court of Appeal affirmed. When defendant filed a petition to vacate the murder conviction under Penal Code section 1172.6, the trial court denied it; it ruled that the Court of Appeal's opinion in defendant’s direct appeal showed that he was the actual killer. The State conceded that this was error, but that the error was harmless because the record of conviction established defendant was the actual killer. Anticipating this response, defendant argued that, under standard principles of issue preclusion (a/k/a collateral estoppel), preclusion did not apply here because: (1) Whether defendant was the shooter was not actually litigated; (2) Trial counsel had an incentive not to contest whether defendant was the shooter; (3) The significance of whether defendant was the shooter was small at trial but, due to the then-unforeseeable enactment of section 1172.6, has since become great; (4) Section 1172.6 was a significant change in the law that warranted reexamination of whether defendant was the shooter. The Court of Appeal agreed that standard principles of issue preclusion applied here. However, the Court held that the issue of whether defendant was the shooter was actually litigated. Moreover, trial counsel did have an incentive to contest this issue; evidently, he simply made a tactical decision not to. Because trial counsel did have an incentive to contest the issue, it did not matter that it was unforeseeable that the issue would have additional future consequences. And finally, while section 1172.6 was a significant change in the law, the Legislature intended that it not constitute an exception ipso facto to issue preclusion. View "California v. Bratton" on Justia Law

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Michael Reynolds Jr. received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole for a crime he committed at age 33. The events triggering that sentence, though, were his two “strikes” under Washington’s “three strikes” law—one of which Reynolds committed at age 17, when he was a juvenile. If Reynolds’ current sentence constituted punishment for his earlier offense committed at age 17, then it would be unconstitutional under case law. But under the Washington Supreme Court’s more recent precedent, his current sentence did not constitute punishment for that prior offense. In Washington v. Moretti, decided two years after Bassett, the Supreme Court held that a “three strikes” sentence of mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole constituted punishment for the last crime or third “strike,” not the earlier first or second “strikes.” “And for years, we have held that our state’s ‘three strikes’ law as applied to adults does not violate article I, section 14.2 That assessment could certainly change over time. But in this case, the parties have not asked us to overrule it.” The Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Washington v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants, nineteen children in New York City’s foster care system, filed suit alleging “systemic deficiencies” in the administration of the City’s foster care system in violation of federal and state law. The named Plaintiffs moved to represent a class of all children who are now or will be in the foster care custody of the Commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services and two subclasses. As remedies, they sought injunctive and declaratory relief to redress alleged class-wide injuries caused by deficiencies in the City’s administration—and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services’ oversight—of foster care. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the district court erred in its analysis of the commonality and typicality requirements under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a).   The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s order denying class certification and remanded. The court held that the district court erred in its analysis of commonality and typicality under Rule 23. The court explained that the district court did not determine whether commonality and typicality exist with respect to each of Plaintiffs’ claims. Instead, it concluded that commonality was lacking as to all alleged harms because “Plaintiffs’ allegations do not flow from unitary, non-discretionary policies.” The court held that this approach was legal error requiring remand. Further, the court wrote that here, the district court largely relied upon its commonality analysis to support its finding that typicality was not satisfied. Thus, the deficiencies identified in its commonality inquiry can also be found in its handling of typicality. View "Elisa W. v. City of New York" on Justia Law