Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Juvenile Law
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In 2015, J.M., then 17, broke into a 72-year-old woman's home, assaulted her with intent to commit rape, and stole $900. The People filed charges directly in adult criminal court under former section 707. A jury found J.M. guilty of assault with intent to commit rape during a burglary, attempted rape, and first-degree robbery, with an elder abuse enhancement. He was sentenced to 14 years to life.J.M. appealed, arguing that Proposition 57, which eliminated direct charging of juveniles in adult court, should apply retroactively. The California Supreme Court in People v. Superior Court (Lara) agreed, holding that Proposition 57 applies retroactively to nonfinal cases. The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed J.M.'s judgment and remanded for a juvenile transfer hearing. The juvenile court, after a hearing, transferred J.M. to adult court, reinstating his sentence. J.M.'s appeal of this order was dismissed, but he later successfully petitioned for habeas corpus, leading to the reentry of the transfer order and this appeal.The California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, reviewed the case. The court found that recent amendments to section 707, which raised the prosecution's burden of proof and required specific findings regarding a minor's amenability to rehabilitation, apply retroactively to J.M.'s case. The court conditionally reversed the transfer order and remanded for a new transfer/amenability hearing under the amended law. If the juvenile court again transfers J.M. to adult court, the criminal court must conduct a new sentencing hearing considering recent ameliorative changes in sentencing laws. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law

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A juvenile male, B.N.M., was accused of participating in the murder of his girlfriend’s parents when he was fifteen years old. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma transferred him to adult status, allowing him to be prosecuted as an adult. B.N.M. challenged this decision, arguing that the district court made errors in its analysis and that transferring him for adult prosecution was unconstitutional due to the severe penalties for first-degree murder.The district court's decision was based on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which outlines factors to consider when deciding whether to transfer a juvenile for adult prosecution. The magistrate judge found that the nature of the offense and the availability of programs to treat the juvenile’s behavioral problems weighed in favor of transfer. The magistrate judge noted that if B.N.M. were adjudicated as a juvenile, he would be released at twenty-one, and there was a low likelihood of sufficient rehabilitation by that age. The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendation, despite B.N.M.'s objections.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reviewed the case. B.N.M. argued that the district court erred by misattributing testimony from the government’s expert to his expert and by not properly considering his role as a follower in the crimes. He also argued that the district court improperly shifted the burden of proof regarding the availability of community programs for his rehabilitation. The Tenth Circuit found that the misattribution of testimony did not affect the outcome and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the factors. The court also held that B.N.M.'s constitutional argument was not ripe for review. Consequently, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to transfer B.N.M. for adult prosecution. View "United States v. B.N.M." on Justia Law

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In November 2004, a sixteen-year-old juvenile stalked and robbed a victim at gunpoint, repeatedly raped her in her home, and then bound, gagged, and robbed her roommate when she arrived. He was sentenced to state prison for aggravated rape and other offenses, with a period of parole ineligibility compliant with constitutional requirements. After serving his prison term, he was placed on probation for the remaining nonhomicide offenses.In March 2007, the juvenile was adjudicated as a youthful offender and sentenced to sixteen to twenty years in state prison for aggravated rape, with additional concurrent and consecutive sentences for other offenses. In 2021, following a court decision, his sentence was restructured to comply with constitutional requirements, reducing his parole ineligibility to fifteen years. He was released from prison in January 2022 and began a five-year probation term. In August 2022, he was arrested for new offenses, leading to a probation violation notice and detention.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reviewed the case. The court held that the restructured sentence, including the probation term, did not violate constitutional protections against cruel or unusual punishment. The court emphasized that the probation term provided the juvenile with an opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. The court also noted that any potential further incarceration resulting from a probation violation would be subject to constitutional constraints, ensuring that the juvenile would not be treated more harshly than a juvenile convicted of murder for parole eligibility purposes. The court affirmed the order denying the juvenile's motion for relief from unlawful restraint. View "Commonwealth v. Sajid S." on Justia Law

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The case involves Santiago Gonzalo Canales, who was convicted for lewd acts and continuous sexual abuse of children. Canales sexually abused his stepdaughter and niece for over a decade, both of whom were under the age of 14 during the abuse. He was charged with four counts, including lewd acts on his niece and continuous sexual abuse of his niece and stepdaughter. The trial lasted eight days, and the jury convicted Canales on all counts, sentencing him to 60 years to life in prison.Canales appealed his convictions, challenging two different jury instructions. He argued that the first instruction did not identify the correct mental states for the offense of continuous sexual abuse. The court upheld the instruction, stating that it was in line with the presumption of mandatory culpability. Canales's second challenge was to another instruction, which the court assumed was given in error, but held that the error was harmless. Canales also forfeited a third challenge. However, on his fourth point, the court agreed with both parties that Canales must be resentenced.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District affirmed Canales's convictions, vacated his sentence, and remanded the case for resentencing without applying the One Strike law. View "People v. Canales" on Justia Law

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The case involves Norman Thurber, who was convicted of six counts of production of child pornography. The charges stemmed from videos found on Thurber's cell phone, which depicted him engaging in sexual acts with a minor female. Thurber was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on each count, with the sentences running concurrently, and 10 years of supervised release to follow. Thurber appealed, challenging various trial rulings, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the district court's imposition of standard conditions of supervised release in the written judgment that it did not orally pronounce at sentencing.The district court had ruled that Thurber was not entitled to present mistake of age as an affirmative defense, citing Eighth Circuit precedent. The court allowed Thurber to introduce evidence that the minor represented herself to be 18 years old, but only insofar as it was evidence that she was actually 18 years old, as age was an element of the offense. The jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed Thurber’s convictions, but vacated the portion of the judgment imposing the standard conditions of supervised release and remanded to the district court for resentencing limited to the standard conditions. The court found that the district court did not err in refusing to allow Thurber to introduce additional portions of the text message exchange between him and the minor. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying Thurber the opportunity to present a mistake-of-age defense. View "United States v. Thurber" on Justia Law

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This case involves a mother, D.R., who appealed jurisdiction and disposition orders related to her six children, all of whom were adjudged dependents of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. D.R. argued that the dependency petitions were deficient, some of the sustained jurisdictional allegations lacked substantial evidence, and her constitutional rights were violated by depriving her of her right to present additional evidence at the continued jurisdiction and disposition hearing for two of the children, and by what she characterized as a violation of her due process right to a speedy contested jurisdictional hearing.The children's fathers were not parties in this appeal. The children were born to three different fathers, referred to as father M., father V., and father H. The mother had been married to father H., but they separated after an incident of domestic violence. Father H. had a history of alcohol abuse and criminal offenses, mostly related to driving under the influence. The mother had sole legal and physical custody of the two children she had with father H., G.H. and B.H.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Two found that some of the juvenile court’s jurisdictional findings lacked the support of substantial evidence, requiring reversal of the jurisdictional and dispositional orders for four of the children. The court otherwise affirmed and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "In re B.H." on Justia Law

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The case involves the Union Leader Corporation (Union Leader) and the New Hampshire Department of Safety (Department). Union Leader sought to compel the Department to disclose records under the Right-to-Know Law, specifically records related to the response by New Hampshire State Police to the Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) on October 7 and 8, 2022. The Department refused to disclose the records, arguing that they were confidential law enforcement investigative records pertaining to juvenile delinquency.The Superior Court dismissed Union Leader's suit, siding with the Department. The court found that the requested records contained facts that underlie the basis for juvenile delinquency proceedings. Therefore, based on a previous decision in Petition of State of New Hampshire (Disclosure of Juvenile Records), the court concluded that the release of the records Union Leader requested was prohibited.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case. The Supreme Court found that the term "court records" in RSA 169-B:35 should not be read so expansively as to shield a broad category of otherwise public records from a request made pursuant to the Right to Know Law, even if that record is related to alleged unlawful conduct by unidentified minors. The court concluded that it is conceivable that information in the Department’s possession could answer Union Leader's questions without interfering with the rehabilitation of the minors against whom juvenile petitions were filed. It is also conceivable that responsive records could be redacted so as to ensure that their disclosure neither conflicts with nor compromises the rehabilitative purpose of RSA chapter 169-B. The case was remanded for the lower court to make those determinations. View "Union Leader Corp. v. N.H. Dep't of Safety" on Justia Law

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The case involves a mother, Brittany B., who appealed from juvenile court orders that found her two children, B.D. and C.D., to be persons described by Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b), and placed them under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The juvenile court sustained a petition based on allegations that C.D. was born with a positive toxicology screen for opiates, and that the mother’s substance abuse placed both children at substantial risk of serious physical harm. The mother contended that the evidence was insufficient to support the court’s jurisdictional findings.The Superior Court of Los Angeles County had previously reversed the orders. The mother had tested positive for opiates during her pregnancy and at the time of C.D.'s birth. However, C.D. did not display any symptoms of withdrawal, and the mother was attentive to both children. The DCFS did not seek to detain the children, but it did open a case and seek court supervision.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Three agreed with the mother's contention and reversed the juvenile court's orders. The court found that while the mother had used prescription drugs during her pregnancy, there was no substantial evidence that the children had suffered or were at risk of suffering serious physical harm or illness as a result of the mother's substance abuse. The court also found that the mother's refusal to voluntarily submit to drug testing did not provide sufficient evidence of a substantial risk of harm to the children. The court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court's jurisdictional findings under section 300, subdivision (b). View "In re B.D." on Justia Law

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Joseph McGrain was sentenced to 264 months in prison for sexually abusing his then-girlfriend’s fourteen-year-old daughter and obstructing the investigation into the abuse. The district court applied a two-offense-level enhancement under section 2G2.1(b)(5) of the Sentencing Guidelines because the victim was in McGrain’s “custody, care, or supervisory control” when he abused her. The court also denied McGrain an offense-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility because he merited an enhancement for obstruction of justice and continued to deny his sexual relationship with the victim and that he convinced her to send him sexually explicit images.McGrain appealed the district court's decisions, arguing that each was reversible error and that his sentence should be vacated. He also requested that his case be assigned to a different judge on remand.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court rejected McGrain's arguments, stating that the "custody, care, or supervisory control" enhancement was correctly applied given McGrain's relationship with the victim. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of a reduction for acceptance of responsibility, stating that McGrain had not demonstrated acceptance of responsibility for his actions. Finally, the court found no error in the district court's determination that McGrain was dangerous, which factored into his sentencing. View "United States v. McGrain" on Justia Law

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A 13-year-old student, K.M., was found in possession of a folding knife on school grounds. The incident occurred when a campus supervisor took K.M. to the principal's office after a report of him vaping in the school bathroom. K.M. consented to a search of his backpack, which revealed two vape pens and a folding knife with two rusted blades. Later, the principal received a report that K.M. had threatened another student with the knife earlier in the day. Consequently, a police officer issued K.M. a citation for brandishing a knife and for possession of a knife on school grounds.The prosecution filed a wardship petition alleging that K.M. brought a weapon onto school property and brandished the knife. The juvenile court held a contested jurisdictional hearing, where the principal and the police officer testified. The court found K.M. guilty of the first count, designating the offense a felony, and dismissed the second count due to insufficient evidence. The court did not check the box indicating that it had found clear proof that K.M. knew his action was wrong. At a subsequent dispositional hearing, K.M.'s counsel argued that K.M. did not know he was breaking any rules when he had the knife at school because his father told him the knife was legal. The court declared K.M. a ward of the court and placed him on probation for six months.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Three, K.M. argued that the prosecution did not prove, and the evidence does not support an implied finding, that he appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct at the time of the incident. The court agreed with K.M., stating that there was no clear and convincing evidence that K.M. understood the wrongfulness of possessing a knife on school grounds. The court found insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's implied finding that K.M. understood the wrongfulness of bringing a knife onto school property at the time of the incident. Therefore, the judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "In re K.M." on Justia Law