In re Interest of William E.

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In re Interest of William E.

Caselaw No.
29 Neb. App. 44 (2020)
Filed on
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Summary:

William E. appeals the transfer order of the county court for Adams County, sitting as a juvenile court, to county court.  The Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile’s court’s order and remanded the case back to the juvenile court for further proceedings.

On April 1, 2019 the State filed a petition in the county court of Adams County, sitting as a juvenile court, alleging that William was a juvenile within the meaning of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-247(2) (Reissue 2016). The allegation stated that William had committed the offense of third degree domestic assault against a pregnant woman, a Class IV felony offense. The victim was his girlfriend. William was 17 years old at the time of the offense. The State simultaneously filed a motion to transfer William’s case from juvenile court to county court.

The juvenile court conducted a transfer hearing. The State offered three exhibits into evidence, as well as the testimony of Mikki Schoone, a child and family services specialist with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS).  Schoone testified as to William’s date of birth, a safety assessment that was marked and offered, the fact that William’s mother currently lived in El Salvador, his father was deceased and that William had no legal guardian. Though guardianship papers were prepared for an aunt to become William’s legal guardian, but those papers were never filed.  Schoone also testified that William had been living with his 23 year old pregnant girlfriend, has not been enrolled in school since September 2019, had a job at the time of the hearing working for roofing companies.  The only law violation William had was a failure to have an operator’s license on him.  The other exhibits dealt with various accounts of the physical fight between William and his pregnant girlfriend, in one exhibit William admits to hitting his girlfriend after she hit him.

The juvenile court entered an oral pronouncement from the bench granting the State’s motion to transfer the matter to county court. William argues that the State did not presented sufficient evidence to support a decision to transfer his case to county court.

The Appeals Court relies on Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-276 (Supp. 2019) and the 15 factors set forth for a juvenile court to consider in making the determination of whether to transfer a case to county court or district court.  The Court further states that the same factors are considered when determining whether to transfer a case to juvenile court. In re Interest of Steven S., 299 Neb. 447, 908 N.W.2d 391 (2018). The court need not resolve every factor against the juvenile, and there are no weighted factors and no prescribed method by which more or less weight is assigned to a specific factor. See id. Rather, it is a balancing test by which public protection and societal security are weighed against the practical and non-problematical rehabilitation of the juvenile. Id.

The Court of Appeals went into some detail on the juvenile court’s apparent lack of consideration of the three exhibits entered and the scarcity of details in the juvenile court’s oral pronouncement from the bench or its journal entry on why it found certain factors favored transferring the case to county court.   The Court also stated that it would encourage courts to take the time to review the evidence and then make a more thorough written order analyzing the relevant factors as set out in § 43-276, which ensures a meaningful review by an appellate court. While a review of all of the factors is not required, it is preferable that a trial court or a juvenile court refer to all the statutory considerations set forth in § 43-276 in its order. See State v. Tyler P., 299 Neb. 959, 911 N.W.2d 260 (2018).  The Court of Appeal also disagreed with the juvenile court’s decision that the State had met its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence why the proceeding should be transferred to county court.  The State’s evidence focused primarily on the incident at issue, rather than the factors set forth in § 43-276(1).   The Appeals Courts also stressed the importance of the trial court’s or juvenile court’s decision, to wit the consequences that if the decision is wrongly made, we have either missed an opportunity to rehabilitate a juvenile outside the negative influences of adult incarceration or failed to adequately incarcerate a potentially dangerous juvenile who will go on to commit further violent crimes.  State v. Esai P., 28 Neb. App. 226, 942 N.W.2d 416 (2020).   

Also mentioned in the opinion was best interest of the juvenile.  In State v. Esai P., supra, the Court  stated, every juvenile’s best interests would be better served by attempting rehabilitation in the juvenile court system rather than being sentenced to a term of imprisonment in the adult corrections system. In the instance case the State did not show that William would require secure detention or supervision for a period extending beyond his minority; there was no evidence that 1 year would not be enough time for William to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system.

The Appeals Court seems to want lower courts to conduct more of a balancing test with regards to the factors in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-276 (Supp. 2019) and existing case law.