Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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The events that formed the basis of Nazeer Taylor’s prosecution occurred when he was fifteen years old. In March 2014, the Commonwealth filed a delinquency petition alleging that Taylor committed numerous delinquent acts purportedly stemming from recurring incidents of sexual assault of his then-eleven-year-old foster brother, A.O. This appeal asked whether a minor’s Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination was violated when a juvenile court granted the Commonwealth’s request to have a delinquency matter transferred to an adult court for criminal prosecution, based in part upon the minor’s decision not to admit culpability to the delinquent acts alleged. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court judgment and remanded for a determination, in the first instance, whether the harmless error doctrine was applicable to the juvenile court's "constitutionally deficient misapplication" of the Juvenile Act's transfer provisions, and if it was not, or if the error was not harmless, for consideration of the available relief under these circumstances. View "Pennsylvania v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Appellant, J.M.G., was born in August 1996. From an early age, J.M.G. experienced chronic mental health issues and a series of resultant hospitalizations. Following an incident in 2013, during which he attempted to choke his adoptive mother (Mother), J.M.G. consented to a voluntary admission into Philhaven, a behavioral health facility treating children and adolescents. Thereafter, J.M.G. agreed to a voluntary admission into Bradley Center, a residential treatment facility. While at Bradley Center, J.M.G. made revelations to Mother that he had been sexually inappropriate with his adoptive sister. Mother referred the matter to Childline. A subsequent investigation resulted in J.M.G. being adjudicated delinquent for one count of misdemeanor indecent assault. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this case to decide whether the harmless error doctrine was applicable to determinations made by the trial court under Act 211 when the materials provided to the Sexual Offender Assessment Board (SOAB), and considered by the Commonwealth’s expert in preparing his report and rendering his opinion, erroneously contained privileged communications under 42 Pa.C.S. section 5944 of the Judicial Code, establishing psychologist-patient privilege. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the harmless error doctrine did not apply. View "In the Interest of: J.M.G." on Justia Law

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On September 20, 2010, at age of 13 appellant, H.R., was adjudicated delinquent for indecent assault of a complainant less than 13 years of age. Appellant was placed on official probation and, pursuant to Section 6352 of the Juvenile Act, was ordered to undergo inpatient treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility. Appellant remained in treatment when he turned 20 in February 2017 and he was assessed pursuant to Section 6352, the results of which found that involuntary treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility pursuant to the Court-Ordered Involuntary Treatment of Certain Sexually Violent Persons Statute (Act 21) was still necessary. On January 4, 2018, following a hearing, a trial court denied appellant's motion to dismiss and granted the petition for involuntary treatment, determining appellant was an sexually violent delinquent child (SVDC) and committing him to one year of mental health treatment. On appeal, appeal, appellant argued: (1) Act 21 was punitive in nature, and this its procedure for determining whether an individual was an SVDC was unconstitutional; and (2) retroactive application of amendments to Act 21 made effective in 2011, was also unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly determined the relevant provisions of Act 21 were not punitive, were constitutional, thus, affirming the trial court's order. View "In re: H.R." on Justia Law

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Appellant Anthony Machicote argued his sentence was illegal because he was subject to a potential sentence of life without parole, and prior to imposing his sentence, the trial court did not consider the factors enumerated in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), as adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Batts, 66 A.3d 286 (Pa. 2013) (Batts I) and Commonwealth v. Batts (Batts II), 163 A.3d 410 (Pa. 2017). In 2003, Appellant was 17 years old and a resident at George Junior Republic, a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth. Appellant and a co-resident, Jeremy Melvin, devised a plan to subdue a night supervisor at the facility in order to escape. Appellant called the night supervisor, Wayne Urey, Jr., to his room. Melvin, who was hiding, attacked Urey from behind, put him in a chokehold, and brought him to the ground. Appellant and Melvin bound and gagged Urey, and proceeded to steal his keys, wallet, and truck. Appellant and Melvin escaped, and Urey ultimately died of suffocation. Appellant and Melvin turned themselves in later that same day. Appellant was charged with homicide, robbery, and related offenses. Appellant pled guilty to second-degree murder and the remaining charges were dismissed. Appellant was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Appellant did not appeal his sentence. The Superior Court concluded that Appellant’s challenge to his sentence was moot because he was ultimately not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court concluded the issue was not moot, and the trial court erred when it failed to consider the Miller factors on the record when it resentenced Appellant. View "Pennsylvania v. Machicote" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to resolve inconsistencies between the Superior Court’s decisions in Commonwealth v. Kemp, 961 A.2d 1247 (Pa. Super. 2008) and Commonwealth v. Nguyen, 116 A.3d 657 (Pa. Super. 2015), specifically with regard to whether information obtained by a police officer during a lawful initial traffic stop may be used to justify re-engagement with the driver after the police officer indicates the driver is free to go, such that consent to search given during that re-engagement is valid. The Supreme Court concluded, under the circumstances of this case, the consent given was valid and suppression of evidence was not warranted. View "In the Int. of: A.A." on Justia Law

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J.B., a juvenile, appealed the Superior Court’s order affirming the juvenile court's order adjudicating him delinquent. J.B. was charged for the first-degree murder and homicide of an unborn child in connection with the shooting death of his stepmother inside their family home on the morning of February 20, 2009. J.B. argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his adjudication of delinquency beyond a reasonable doubt for these offenses, and, alternatively, that the juvenile court’s adjudication was against the weight of the evidence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's careful review of the evidentiary record in this matter compelled its conclusion that the evidence introduced at his adjudicatory hearing was indeed insufficient, as a matter of law, to establish his delinquency for these offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the Court reversed the Superior Court’s order which affirmed the juvenile court’s order of disposition for these offenses. View "In The Interest of J.B.; Appeal of: J.B." on Justia Law

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Appellant Qu’eed Batts was convicted of a first-degree murder that he committed when he was fourteen years old. The issue for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether the sentencing court imposed an illegal sentence when it resentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. After careful review, the Court concluded, based on the findings made by the sentencing court and the evidence upon which it relied, that the sentence was illegal in light of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). Pursuant to its grant of allowance of appeal, the Court further concluded that to effectuate the mandate of Miller and Montgomery, procedural safeguards were required to ensure that life-without-parole sentences were meted out only to “the rarest of juvenile offenders” whose crimes reflected “permanent incorrigibility,” “irreparable corruption” and “irretrievable depravity,” as required by Miller and Montgomery. The Pennsylvania Court recognized a presumption against the imposition of a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender. To rebut the presumption, the Commonwealth bears the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile offender is incapable of rehabilitation. View "Pennsylvania v. Batts" on Justia Law

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The case centered Section 6105 of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995. Although a Section 6105 violation, by default, is graded as a misdemeanor of the first degree, subsection (a.1)(1) elevated the offense grade to a felony of the second degree where the defendant was “convicted” of any felony offense enumerated in subsection (b). In 2011, Appellee was convicted, among other things, of a Section 6105 offense, apparently based upon his possession of a firearm and the fact of a previous juvenile adjudication in 2005 for conduct which would give rise to an aggravated assault conviction if committed by an adult. Prior to sentencing, the prosecution apparently took the position that the finding of delinquency should be considered a “conviction” for purposes of the subsection (a.1)(1) enhancement. On appeal, however, the Superior Court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. The intermediate court explained that the term “conviction” carried a discrete legal connotation that is not generally understood to encompass juvenile adjudications. The Supreme Court granted review to determine whether juvenile adjudications of delinquency qualify as “convictions” for purposes of grading within a particularized sentencing regime. The Court held that the concept of convictions, as embodied in Section 6105, did not encompass juvenile adjudications. View "Pennsylvania. v. Hale" on Justia Law