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State v. J.R.

Supreme Court of Maine

August 14, 2018

STATE OF MAINE
v.
J.R.

          Argued: June 13, 2018

          Tina Heather Nadeau, Esq. (orally), The Law Office of Tina Heather Nadeau, PLLC, Portland, for Appellant J.R.

          Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney, and Carie James, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District IV, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Emma E. Bond, Esq., Zachary L. Heiden, Esq., and Meagan S. Sway, Esq., American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Foundation, Portland, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Maine Foundation

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          Majority: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] J.R. appeals from the judgment of the District Court (Skowhegan, Benson, /.), sitting as the juvenile court, that adjudicated him of having committed two counts of criminal mischief (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. §806(1)(A) (2017), and three counts of theft (Class E), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 353(1)(A), 359(1)(A) (2017). The court ordered that J.R. be committed to the Long Creek Youth Development Center (Long Creek) for an indeterminate period not to exceed his eighteenth birthday. See 15 M.R.S. §§ 3313(1)-(2), 3314(1), 3316(2) (2017). J.R. contends that the court abused its discretion or otherwise erred when it determined that commitment to a secure juvenile correctional institution was the least restrictive dispositional alternative available without explicitly finding that J.R.'s commitment was necessary to protect the public.[1] He further contends that his indeterminate commitment until age eighteen is disproportionate punishment because it potentially incarcerates him for a longer term than the maximum length of a sentence for an adult convicted of similar misdemeanor crimes. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] J.R. was born on March 3, 2001. He was fifteen when the State filed, on January 13, 2017, the first of the three juvenile petitions that are the subject of this appeal. In docket number SKODC-JV-17-0005 (17-0005), the State alleged that, on November 15, 2016, J.R. "receive[d], retain[ed], or dispose[d] of a scooter, ... knowing it had been stolen, or believing probably that it had been stolen, with the intent to deprive [the owner] of the property," and that he damaged the scooter by "painting" the number "420" on it. The petition in 17-0005 charged J.R. with theft by receiving stolen property (Class E), 17-AM.R.S. §359(1)(A), and criminal mischief (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. §806(1)(A).

         [¶3] On February 27, 2017, J.R. appeared at an initial hearing and denied both charges. The court ordered his release on the conditions that he (1) refrain from any illegal acts, including the use of alcohol or illegal drugs; (2) remain under house arrest when not at school, travelling to or from school, or under the supervision of his parents or someone approved by his Juvenile Community Corrections Officer (JCCO); (3) have no contact with the owner of the scooter or the juveniles involved in its theft or reporting it stolen to the police; and (4) report regularly to his JCCO. The court set the matter for an adjudicatory hearing on April 10, 2017.

         [¶4] Before that next hearing occurred, however, the State filed a second petition, which was entered in docket number SKODC-JV-17-0021 (17-0021). The petition charged J.R. with aggravated criminal mischief (Class C), 17-AM.R.S. § 805(1)(A) (2017), alleging that on February 19, 2017, he "did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly damage or destroy windows, doors and surveillance cameras," causing in excess of $2, 000 in damage at a public school. On April 10, 2017, at the time the court had previously set for the adjudicatory hearing in 17-0005, J.R. initially appeared and denied the aggravated criminal mischief charge. The court released J.R. under the same conditions it had previously imposed, with the added requirements that J.R. (1) submit to searches or tests for possession or use of drugs or alcohol, (2) set up case management services, and (3) attend individual counseling. The court [Mathews, /.) continued the adjudicatory hearing in both matters to June 12, 2017. The State agreed to conditions of release and to a two-month continuance of the adjudicatory hearing in docket number 17-0005 to "try and treat [J.R.] in the community," with the understanding that "if he attended and participated in . . . counseling, then [it] would [have] recommend[ed] ... a probation[ary] sentence and ... restitution."

         [¶5] In the period following the continuance, however, J.R. did not meaningfully participate in services. He attended only a few brief counseling sessions, which the counselor then discontinued due to J.R.'s lack of engagement. When J.R. failed to appear at the adjudicatory hearing on June 12, the court ordered a warrant for his arrest and subsequent detention, which issued later that month. While J.R.'s whereabouts were unknown, the State filed a third petition against him. That petition, entered in SKODC-JV-17-0034 (17-0034), charged J.R. with burglary (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 401(1)(B)(4) (2017), and two counts of theft by unauthorized taking or transfer (Class E), 17-A M.R.S. § 353(1)(A). The State alleged that on June 8, 2017, J.R. broke through the front door of his brother's apartment and stole a safe containing money, marijuana, and documents belonging to his brother and the brother's roommate. On July 25, 2017, a second arrest warrant issued for J.R.

         [¶6] On October 12, 2017, law enforcement took J.R. into custody and, after a hearing the next day, the court [Benson, /.) ordered him to remain detained until the adjudicatory hearing later in the month. See 15 M.R.S. § 3203-A(5) (2017). At the adjudicatory hearing, the parties informed the court that J.R. intended to withdraw his previous pleas and tender an "open plea" admitting to the criminal mischief and theft charges in 17-0005 and to a drug paraphernalia charge, which is not a subject of this appeal.[2] In exchange, the State declined to proceed on the aggravated criminal mischief or burglary charges against J.R.; it amended the aggravated criminal mischief charge in 17-0021 to simple criminal mischief and dismissed the burglary charge in 17-0034, leaving only misdemeanor charges in those dockets.

         [¶7] After J.R. admitted to the offenses of receiving stolen property and criminal mischief in 17-0005 and the amended charges of unauthorized taking in 17-0034 and criminal mischief in 17-0021, the court found, based upon a thorough colloquy with J.R., that "his admissions [were] knowing and voluntary." The court then proceeded to determine an appropriate disposition.

         [¶8] Regarding the disposition of J.R.'s case, the court and the State expressed that their ultimate objective was "rehabilitation of the juvenile." The court further explained that, to fulfill the overarching intent of the Maine Juvenile Code, "the Court is bound to impose the least restrictive dispositional alternative." The court rejected the possibility of a straight probationary disposition, stating "there's just no indication that ... if I were to [order probation] . . . that [it] would succeed." The court was apparently-and appropriately-frustrated by a lack of suitable alternatives for treating J.R. in the community: "Looking at [the factors for withholding an institutional disposition], everyone up to this point has bent over backwards in order to impose the least restrictive alternative so that you could try to succeed And up to this point, you just haven't justified the confidence."

         [¶9] The court ordered that J.R. be committed to an approved juvenile detention facility for an indeterminate period not to exceed his eighteenth birthday. J.R. timely appealed. 15 M.R.S. §§ 3402-3403 (2017); M.R. App. P. 2B.

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶10] J.R. argues that the court abused its discretion and otherwise erred[3] when it determined that a disposition committing him to Long Creek was the least restrictive alternative, absent any explicit finding that his commitment was necessary to protect the public. See 15 M.R.S. §§ 3002(1)(A), 3313-3314 (2017). J.R. also argues that his commitment to Long Creek offends constitutional principles of proportional punishment. Pursuant to 15 M.R.S. §§3401(2) and 3402(1)(B) (2017), we review a juvenile disposition for an abuse of discretion and "errors in the application and interpretation of law," "[t]o [e]nsure substantial uniformity of treatment to persons in like situations," and "so that the legislatively defined purposes of the juvenile justice system as a whole are realized." See State v. G.F., 2015 ME 90, ¶¶ 2-3, 119 A.3d 743. We begin by reviewing the purposes behind juvenile dispositions and comparing those purposes to the notably different objectives for the sentencing of adult defendants. We then separately address the arguments regarding the least restrictive alternative and proportionality.

         A. The Maine Juvenile Code

         [¶11] The juvenile court correctly noted the Maine Juvenile Code's stated preference for keeping juveniles in the home, whenever possible, and its emphasis upon rehabilitation. Title 15 M.R.S. § 3002(1) (2017) provides the purposes of the Juvenile Code:

A. To secure for each juvenile subject to these provisions such care and guidance, preferably in the juvenile's own home, as will best serve the juvenile's welfare and the interests of society;
B. To preserve and strengthen family ties whenever possible, including improvement of home environment;
C. To remove a juvenile from the custody of the juvenile's parents only when the juvenile's welfare and safety or the protection of the public would otherwise be endangered or, when necessary, to punish a child adjudicated, pursuant to chapter 507, as having committed a juvenile crime;
D. To secure for any juvenile removed from the custody of the juvenile's parents the necessary treatment, care, guidance and discipline to assist that juvenile in becoming a responsible and productive member of society;
E. To provide procedures through which the provisions of the law are executed and enforced and that ensure that the parties receive fair hearings at which their rights as ...

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