Articles Posted in Juvenile Law

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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

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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

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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

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"J.H." appealed an adjudication that she was a child in need of care and supervision (CHINS) for being "habitually and without justification truant from compulsory school attendance." J.H. contended: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the findings; and (2) the court improperly shifted the burden of proof on the question of whether she was habitually truant "without justification." The only witness was a Bennington County deputy sheriff who testified that he served as the County's truancy officer. The officer testified that he ended up transporting J.H. to school on two subsequent days in January. On the third occasion, the officer served a "truancy notice," the purpose of which was to warn a parent or guardian that a truancy case could be brought if their child is continually absent. The officer went to the home twice more in January (the fourth and fifth visits that month) but there was no response from anyone at the residence. At the conclusion of the officer's testimony, J.H.'s counsel moved to dismiss the petition, asserting that the evidence was insufficient to establish that J.H. was habitually truant. The trial court denied the motion, finding that five truancy reports within "a matter of weeks . . . meet[s] the definition of being habitually not at school."  The court also observed it had "no evidence . . . of justification for [J.H.] not being in school." Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed that the record evidence was fundamentally insufficient to establish that J.H. was truant on the days alleged. "Inasmuch as the evidence here was plainly insufficient under [33 V.S.A. 5102(3)(D)], we are compelled to conclude that the adjudication of CHINS based on truancy must be reversed." View "In re J. H." on Justia Law

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Juvenile Defendant A.C. appealed an adjudication of delinquency. On the basis of an incident at school, the State filed a delinquency petition against him, alleging that he engaged in open and gross lewdness and lascivious conduct towards the complaining witness, A.R. A.C. raised several evidentiary issues and argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the court's ruling. Upon review, the Supreme Court found substantial evidence to support the trial court's ruling, and affirmed the adjudication of delinquency. View "In re A.C." on Justia Law