Articles Posted in Juvenile 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

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the Superior Court erred in holding the right of a juvenile accused to be confronted with a witness against him conferred by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution was violated where the juvenile court admitted into evidence an out-of-court, video-taped, forensic interview of a child complainant under the Tender Years Hearsay Act (“TYHA”), even though defense counsel did not cross-examine the child complainant who had taken the witness stand at the juvenile’s contested adjudication hearing. In light of the unique circumstances of this case (wherein the Commonwealth conceded continued questioning of the unconversable child complainant on direct examination would have been futile, and the juvenile court suggested she be removed from the witness stand), the Supreme Court held the admission of the recorded forensic interview of the child complainant violated the juvenile accused’s right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "In the Interest of: N.C." on Justia Law

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In 2009, C.B. (an adult male), along with his fiancee K.M.H (“the victim”) and her two daughters, J.H. (age 7) and A.H (age 4), and C.B.’s 11-year-old son J.B. were living together in a two-story rented house in a rural area surrounded by farmland and woods, and situated near the town of Wampum. K.M.H. was found dead with a single shotgun wound to the head shortly after C.B. had left for work for and J.H. and C.B. had left for school. K.M.H. was pregnant at the time of her death. The focus of the police investigation turned from K.M.H.'s ex-boyfriend to J.B., when police found that the ballistics of the shotgun pellets found in the victim matched that found on the shotgun seized from the residence. It was determined that J.B. had learned how to shoot this gun for hunting, and that the clothes J.B. wore to school the morning of the shooting had trace gunshot residue on them. The juvenile court issued written findings of fact adjudicating J.B. delinquent of criminal homicide for the death of K.M.H. and of her unborn child. J.B. filed a notice of appeal from the dispositional order, following which the juvenile court directed J.B. to prepare and file a statement of matters complained of on appeal. The juvenile court did not find J.B.’s weight of the evidence claim waived due to his failure to file a post-dispositional motion. Instead, the juvenile court ruled that J.B.’s weight of the evidence claim had been “adequately addressed . . . in its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law issued on April 13, 2012 and supplemental Opinion issued on April 20, 2012.” The Supreme Court found that J.B. faced procedural rules that made optional the filing of a post-dispositional motion, and which did not otherwise specify how a weight of the evidence claim was to be presented in the first instance to the juvenile court in order to preserve it for appellate review. Furthermore, J.B. presented his weight of the evidence claim to the lower court by raising it in his Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement, in which he comprehensively set forth specific reasons why, in his view, the juvenile court’s adjudication was against the weight of the evidence. The Supreme Court concluded that a finding of J.B.’s weight of the evidence claim to be waived under the circumstances of this case would have been manifestly unjust. The Court remanded this case back to the juvenile court to allow J.B. to file a post-dispositional motion nunc pro tunc. View "In the Interest of J.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted allocatur in this case to decide “whether and when a reviewing court considering a challenge to a pretrial ruling, whether in a post-verdict or appellate context, may look beyond the record of evidence presented at the suppression hearing.” The Superior Court relied on a footnote from the Court's decision in "Commonwealth v. Chacko," (459 A.2d 311 (Pa. 1983)), for the proposition that “it [was] appropriate to consider all of the testimony, not just the testimony presented at the suppression hearing, in determining whether evidence was properly admitted.” The Superior Court, (pursuant to "Chacko") considered evidence adduced for the first time at trial when deciding whether the police properly seized contraband from Appellant, L.J. Specifically, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of suppression because trial testimony established that L.J. voluntarily consented to the search at issue. Upon review of the record, the Supreme Court found that the Superior Court’s reliance on Chacko was understandable but ultimately misplaced. Accordingly, the Court vacated the disposition order, and remanded this case to the juvenile court for a new suppression hearing. View "In the Interest of: L.J." on Justia Law

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In 1999, Appellant, his codefendant, and two accomplices robbed the occupants of a vehicle at gunpoint. In the course of the robbery, Appellant shot and killed the victim. At the time, Appellant was seventeen years of age. In 2002, Appellant was convicted of second-degree murder and related offenses. He received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, plus a term of imprisonment. On direct appeal, the Superior Court affirmed; the Supreme Court denied Appellant’s petition for allowance of appeal; and Appellant did not seek discretionary review in the United States Supreme Court. Appellant then timely filed a post-conviction petition claiming, inter alia, that the life-without-parole sentence violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as extended to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case was whether “Miller v. Alabama,” (132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)) applied retroactively to Appellant’s 2002 judgment of sentence, which became final in 2005. The United States Supreme Court issued the Miller decision in June 2012, rendering Pennsylvania’s mandatory scheme of life imprisonment for first- and second-degree murder unconstitutional, as applied to offenders under the age of eighteen at the time of their crimes. Significantly, as pertaining to this case, the Miller majority did not specifically address the question of whether its holding applied to judgments of sentence for prisoners, such as Appellant, which already were final as of the time of the decision. The Pennsylvania Court applied settled principles of appellate review, and found nothing in Appellant’s arguments persuaded it that Miller’s proscription of the imposition of mandatory life-without-parole sentences upon offenders under the age of eighteen at the time their crimes were committed must be extended to those whose judgments of sentence were final as of the time of Miller’s announcement. View "Pennsylvania v. Cunningham" on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, the Supreme Court considered whether under Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act, a juvenile court is required to enter on the record an adjudication of delinquency once it has determined the juvenile committed the acts alleged in the delinquency petition, or whether the court must make an additional finding that the juvenile is in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation, prior to entering an adjudication of delinquency. In 2007, the Commonwealth filed a delinquency petition against M.W. alleging that he and another youth robbed an individual who had just left a local bar. At an adjudicatory hearing, the juvenile court found that M.W. committed robbery, conspiracy, and related charges. Later that same day, M.W. was adjudicated delinquent by another juvenile court judge on a separate delinquency theft petition, and M.W. was committed for treatment, rehabilitation, and supervision. After a hearing on the first petition, the trial court discharged the delinquency petition stemming from the robbery offense, noting that M.W. "will be adjudicated on the [theft] petition. He will still receive treatment and supervision." The Commonwealth filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. The Commonwealth then appealed to the Superior Court, where it argued that the juvenile court abused its discretion and violated the requirements of the Juvenile Act by failing to adjudicate M.W. delinquent once it found that M.W. had committed the acts alleged in the original delinquency petition. Upon review, the Court held that the Juvenile Act requires a juvenile court to find both: (1) that the juvenile has committed a delinquent act; and (2) that the juvenile is in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation, before the juvenile court may enter an adjudication of delinquency. In this case, the Court reversed the decision of the Superior Court. View "Pennsylvania v. In the Interest of M.W." on Justia Law

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n this appeal, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the mere offer of an automobile ride to a child constituted an attempt to “lure” the child under Section 2910 of Pennsylvania’s Criminal Code, entitled “Luring a child into a motor vehicle or structure.” Appellant was charged with four counts of harassment, stalking, and attempted luring of a child into a motor vehicle for offering two neighborhood boys a ride to school in Appellant's own neighborhood. He had seen the children in the neighborhood, and offered them short rides to school or to the store. The children declined, and Appellant made no further attempt to "help." Appellant was acquitted of the charged at a bench trial because the judge "expressly stated she found no evidence that Appellant had any intent to harm the children, and that she believed 'the circumstances show no reason to believe that this defendant had any evil or improper intent in doing what he did.'” However, on the sole basis of Appellant’s offer of the rides, she convicted him on all four counts of attempted luring. The trial court found that “[Appellant’s] offer of a ride to the victims is sufficient to constitute an attempt to ‘lure.’” The trial court subsequently sentenced Appellant to 18 months’ probation. As an automatic result of his convictions, Appellant was statutorily mandated to register for ten years as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. Appellant filed an appeal to the Superior Court, arguing that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to sustain his conviction, because his offer of a ride to the children, by itself, did not constitute a “lure” or an attempt to “lure,” given that he did not offer the children any enticement to get into his car, nor did he command or otherwise threaten them. Appellant also argued that he had no ill intent in offering the children a ride, but, rather, was merely acting as a “disabled Good Samaritan.” After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded that an attempt to “lure” does not include the action of simply extending an offer of an automobile ride to a child, when it is unaccompanied by any other enticement or inducement for the child to enter the motor vehicle. Consequently, the Court reversed Appellant's conviction for attempted luring. View "Pennsylvania v. Hart" on Justia Law

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Kelsey Lauren Miller was the sole minor child of Appellant Kristi George (Mother) and Wesley Miller (Father). After the parents divorced, they shared joint legal custody of Kelsey until the Father died in April 2007. Although the Father died intestate, he had designated Kelsey as the sole beneficiary of his Federal Employee Group Life Insurance Policy valued at $356,000. The Father’s sister, Appellee Pamela Wahal, served as the administratrix of his estate. In late 2007, Appellee, as the "next friend" of Kelsey, filed a petition for the appointment of a limited guardian of Kelsey’s estate, asserting that Kelsey lacked the "necessary knowledge and maturity to manage the funds to which she is entitled following her father’s death." Appellee proposed that her attorney be appointed to serve as the limited guardian. The Mother filed a response to Appellee’s petition, denying the need for the appointment of a limited guardian of Kelsey’s estate. The issue presented on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case was whether a parent has legal standing to challenge the appointment of a guardian for her child’s estate. Upon review, the Court held that a parent does have standing. The Court reversed the Superior Court's order appointing a trustee, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In Re: Kelsey Miller" on Justia Law