Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Juvenile Law
In re N.M., Juvenile
Juvenile N.M. appealed the family division’s order granting the request of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to place him in an out-of-state secure facility. Juvenile argued he was entitled to an independent, second evidentiary hearing, pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5291(d), on the question of whether he should be placed in the secure facility. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded section 5291(d) was inapplicable in the post-disposition phase of this case, and therefore denied the request. Insofar as juvenile made no other arguments in support of his appeal, the appeal was dismissed. View "In re N.M., Juvenile" on Justia Law
In re S.R., Juvenile
Juvenile S.R. appealed a family division order granting the Department for Children and Families' (DCF) request to place him in a secure out-of-state psychiatric residential treatment facility pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5926. In November 2019, mother stipulated that S.R. was CHINS. The stipulated merits order indicated that S.R. and mother were homeless, mother needed to undergo a medical procedure that would preclude her from caring for S.R., and S.R. had mental health and behavioral needs that needed continued treatment. The stipulated order included a statement that S.R. did not meet criteria for voluntary or involuntary mental health admission. Mother stipulated that she was unable to meet S.R.’s needs for stability, housing, and mental and behavioral health services. The COVID-19 pandemic struck, delaying court hearings. Over the following months, S.R. moved through a series of ten to twelve placements. The constant changes in placement prevented S.R. from establishing any therapeutic connections with service providers and also inhibited S.R.’s educational progress. S.R. was charged with delinquency several times after he reportedly became abusive during three of his placements. DCF, Mother and S.R.'s guardian ad litem eventually agreed on a placement in Harbor Point, Virginia. S.R. himself objected to placement at Harbor Point, and to any other placement out-of-state, unless a program could be found in New York, where his mother was living at the time of the hearing. The court ultimately granted DCF’s motion for out-of-state placement, finding that there were no equivalent facilities in Vermont, and that placement at Harbor Point was in S.R.’s best interest. On appeal, S.R. argued the court erred in granting the motion for out-of-state placement in the absence of any psychiatric or psychological evaluation supporting a conclusion that psychiatric residential treatment was necessary for him. He contended his placement was akin to the involuntary commitment of an adult, and that involuntary commitment decisions had to be supported by full psychiatric evaluations and expert testimony. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the order was not supported by sufficient evidence, and reversed. "While we have no doubt that everyone involved in the proceeding below was concerned with S.R.’s best interest and acted in good faith, and it may be that DCF’s position is ultimately adequately supported, the record simply does not contain the sort of expert evidence required to support long-term placement in a locked psychiatric residential treatment facility over S.R.’s objection." View "In re S.R., Juvenile" on Justia Law
In re A.P., Juvenile
Juvenile A.P. appealed an adjudication of delinquency based on “open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior” under 13 V.S.A. section 2601. Juvenile argued: (1) the evidence did not support a finding that his conduct was open or gross; (2) section 2601 was ambiguous and therefore unenforceable against him; and (3) section 2601 was unconstitutionally vague. The incident giving rise to the adjudication at issue here dated back to 2018, when Juvenile approached the complainant in the hallway of school. Complainant testified: “[A]ll of a sudden, he asked if he could touch my breasts, and then he just reached out, and his hand was on me.” No one else was present, although school was in session. When juvenile touched complainant’s breast with his hand, she turned around and ran. She was furious and upset. Juvenile testified that he reached out his hand toward complainant’s chest but never touched it. He testified that he regretted disregarding complainant’s feelings and felt his actions were “disgusting.” The family court found complainant to be credible. It concluded that juvenile had touched her breast and in doing so had committed a delinquent act. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the court’s findings were supported by the record. The Court further concluded the statute unambiguously proscribes the type of conduct at issue here, and accordingly affirmed the judgment. View "In re A.P., Juvenile" on Justia Law
In re A.A.
A.A., born in February 2003, was first adjudicated delinquent and placed at Woodside, a secure treatment facility for juveniles, in September 2016. He was placed back in his home in the continued custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) in December 2017. In 2018, A.A. was charged in the criminal division, with one count of assault and robbery, injury resulting, and one count of providing false information to a police officer. Shortly thereafter, a delinquency petition alleging larceny was filed against A.A. in the family division. While these cases proceeded, A.A. was administratively held at Woodside in connection with the earlier, unrelated delinquency case. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether the statutory timeline for adjudicating the merits of A.A.'s delinquency petition while held in a secure treatment facility applied to the delinquency petition where there was no secured-facility placement order because A.A. had already been placed at a secure facility pursuant to a prior, separate delinquency petition. Because the Supreme Court concluded the statutory timeline set forth in 33 V.S.A. 5291(b) did not apply in such situations, the Court rejected A.A.'s call for dismissal of the petition on appeal and vacation of the secure-facility placement order that had been issued under a different petition. The Court affirmed the family division’s order adjudicating A.A. delinquent for having committed assault and robbery. View "In re A.A." on Justia Law
T.C. v. L.D.
Plaintiff T.C. sought an order of protection against stalking or sexual assault (SSA order) against defendant L.D. Plaintiff was seventeen at the time she sought the order; defendant was thirteen. The court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint without reaching the merits, holding that the statute pertaining to SSA orders did not permit claims against a minor defendant. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed, finding nothing in the SSA statute that expressly limited who may be the subject of an SSA complaint. View "T.C. v. L.D." on Justia Law
In re B.B., Juvenile
B.B. was charged with aggravated assault based on allegations from August 2016. In November 2018, B.B. was 20 years old, and filed a motion for youthful-offender status based on his age in 2016 . B.B. struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction, and his residential and employment situations were “unstable.” The State opposed the motion. There was prima facie evidence that B.B. “engaged in a new violent act” while he was “under the influence of alcohol,” even though B.B. was underage and was subject to a condition of release that required him to refrain from drinking alcohol. The youthful-offender statutory scheme would have allowed, if the criminal defendant was under twenty-two years old and was at least twelve years old at the time of the alleged offense, a motion to be filed with the criminal division requesting youthful-offender status. Attaining that status would provide for the defendant to obtain a battery of counseling and rehabilitation in addition to any punishment determined by the court. Only if the court finds that public safety will be protected may the court then go on to consider the other statutory factors. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that B.B. had not met his burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that public safety would be protected if he were granted youthful-offender status, and denied the motion. B.B. requested permission to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, which was granted. However, finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "In re B.B., Juvenile" on Justia Law
Vermont v. Suhr
Defendant Jasen Suhr was charged with sexual assault, in violation of 13 V.S.A. 3252(a)(1), based on allegations that he forced his girlfriend to have sexual intercourse with him without her consent. At that time, defendant was seventeen, and his girlfriend was sixteen. The criminal court transferred defendant to juvenile court in September 2013, but it reversed that decision the next month, returning defendant to criminal court. In December 2013, defendant entered a conditional guilty plea, which was contingent on the family division’s accepting defendant for participation in the youthful-offender treatment program, pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5281. In February 2014, the family division accepted defendant as a youthful offender and entered the terms of his juvenile probation. The court set a two-year juvenile probationary period, anticipating completion in February 2016. Defendant appealed the trial court’s decision that he violated the terms of his juvenile probation by: failing to attend school, comply with his GPS-monitoring requirements, and participate in a Restorative Justice Panel. Defendant also appealed the trial court’s decision to revoke his youthful-offender status based on these violations. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court’s decision did “not align with the circumstances of this case. … Given that defendant’s underlying conviction was for a sex offense, it was particularly important that treatment include appropriate sex-offender therapy. Based on the court’s findings, defendant was never offered adequate sex offender treatment. His failure to rehabilitate while participating in inappropriate therapy hardly demonstrates that defendant was unamenable to treatment. We find too speculative the court’s prediction that defendant would have violated his probation conditions even if he had received appropriate sex offender therapy. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court exceeded its discretion in revoking defendant’s youth-offender status based, in part, on defendant’s inadequate sex-offender therapy. In determining whether defendant is amenable to rehabilitation on remand, the court should give proper consideration to the adequacy of defendant’s treatment.” The Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusions with respect to defendant’s probation violations for failing to attend school or to comply with GPS monitoring, and for failing to participate in the Restorative Justice Panel, but reversed the trial court’s decision to revoke defendant’s Youthful Offender status. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Suhr" on Justia Law
In re D.C.
Petitioner D.C. appealed the denial of post-conviction relief (PCR), alleging that the change-of-plea hearing that preceded his adjudication of juvenile delinquency was constitutionally inadequate. The superior court held that the PCR statute did not apply to juvenile delinquency proceedings and that the only remedy available to petitioner was through 33 V.S.A. 5113 and Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), but that route was foreclosed because petitioner’s claim was untimely raised. On appeal, petitioner argued that the case was not moot, despite the fact he was over the age of majority at the time of his appeal (and no longer committed to state custody), and that the PCR statutes permitted juveniles to collaterally attack their adjudications. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed the superior court’s order dismissing petitioner’s PCR complaint, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re D.C." on Justia Law
In re K.A.
K.A., a twelve-year-old, middle-school boy, committed "inappropriate acts" outside his school, for which he was adjudged delinquent under a Vermont statute prohibiting lewd acts relating to prostitution. The charges stemmed from a school-yard game of four-square: "S.K." and K.A. were friends. K.A. approached, said his hands were cold, and asked to put his hands in her jacket pockets. S.K. said no, but K.A. reached his hands into her pockets anyway. Then K.A. began walking backward towards a snowbank a few feet away, pulling S.K. with him by her pockets. As he pulled her, K.A. pressed against S.K. and told her to kiss him or he would throw her in the snowbank. S.K. again said no and tried to remove his hands from her pockets. Then, the trial court found, K.A. tried to get his hands under the waistband of the girl’s jeans while his hands were still in her outside coat pockets. S.K.’s belt prevented K.A.’s hands from going down the front of her pants. Ultimately, K.A. did not kiss S.K. or throw her into the snowbank; instead, he pulled her back towards the school, again using his hands in her pockets as leverage. As the two neared the building, a teacher saw them and yelled at K.A. to take his hands out of S.K.’s pockets. The State filed a delinquency petition alleging that K.A committed simple assault and engaged in a prohibited act, lewdness. The trial court granted the judgment of acquittal with regard to simple assault, but not with regard to engaging in lewdness. K.A. argued on appeal to the Supreme Court: (1) the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that, beyond a reasonable doubt, K.A. attempted to commit a prohibited lewd act; and (2) the trial court improperly amended the charge from committing a lewd act to attempting to commit a lewd act. The Supreme Court concluded that the charge against K.A. failed for insufficient evidence that his actions were an attempt to engage in a lewd act of prostitution. “Discretion to prosecute persons who have committed crimes is one thing; prosecutorial discretion to decide whether conduct is criminal in the first instance is another. The latter invites arbitrary enforcement and contravenes the separation of powers inherent in our constitutional government.” View "In re K.A." on Justia Law
In re E.W.
E.W. was fifteen years old, in the custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF), and living in a foster home when in 2013, a Vermont state trooper in uniform arrived at E.W.'s foster home to investigate a break-in and motor-vehicle theft. E.W.'s foster father then spoke privately with E.W. and told him not to say anything to the officer until the foster father contacted DCF. When asked what he and E.W. discussed, the foster father responded, "[h]onesty," explaining that he was "trying to encourage E.W. to be honest," and how "[i]t's not always easy to do the right thing." He denied specifically directing E.W. to do the right thing, however, or telling him that he had to speak with the officer. The foster father telephoned for guidance from E.W.'s guardian ad litem (GAL), who told him that "[u]sually the attorneys do not like the children interviewed unless they are there." The GAL then attempted to reach E.W.'s attorney, leaving a voice mail, and then spoke with the foster father again. The GAL advised him to be present during any conversation between E.W. and the police officer. The GAL could not reach E.W.'s attorney. The interview was not recorded; no Miranda warnings were given. The foster father was present throughout. He recalled that the officer "asked E.W. about where the car was," informing him that the police "were aware" he had taken it to Derby "but didn't know where it had gone after that." The foster father also recalled that he twice interrupted the officer's questioning to speak privately with E.W. when it appeared that "the floodgates . . . opened" and E.W. started making admissions to offenses beyond those that the officer had described. E.W. was subsequently charged with two counts of burglary, four counts of unlawful trespass in an occupied residence, three counts of petit larceny, one count of unlawful mischief, and one count of operating a vehicle without owner consent. He moved to suppress his statements to the officer and dismiss all counts, asserting violations of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights as well as his rights under Chapter I, Article 10 of the Vermont Constitution. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that E.W. was not in custody at the time of the interrogation, and that Miranda warnings were therefore not required. E.W. then entered a conditional plea to all counts except the unlawful-mischief count, which was dismissed by the State, and reserved his right to appeal the suppression ruling. On appeal, E.W. argued that his motion to suppress should have been granted under both the federal and state constitutions. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that E.W. was in custody, and his motion to suppress should have been granted. The trial court's judgment was reversed. View "In re E.W." on Justia Law