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State ex rel. A.D. v. Alsop

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 21, 2018

STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA EX REL. A.D., M.D., and D.D., Petitioners

          Clay County No. 16-JD-9


         The Petitioners seek a writ of prohibition to prevent further enforcement of a final juvenile dispositional order of the Circuit Court of Clay County.[1] That order required the juvenile Petitioner, A.D., [2] to wear a GPS ankle monitoring bracelet while on home confinement until he reached the age of eighteen.[3] A.D was twelve years old when these conditions were imposed. The Respondent, through counsel, filed a summary response brief in support of the circuit court's decision.[4]

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs, the appendix submitted, and the parties' oral arguments. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the Court finds that the circuit court's dispositional order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law. Accordingly, we prohibit enforcement of the circuit court's dispositional order and remand this case for entry of an order releasing A.D. to the custody of his mother without any restrictions or conditions. Insofar as this case does not present a new or significant issue of law, and for the reasons set forth herein, we find this case satisfies the “limited circumstances" requirements of Rule 21(d) of the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure and is proper for disposition as a memorandum decision.

         The limited record in this case shows that on October 18, 2016, A.D. carried a small amount of marijuana into Clay County Middle School, where he was enrolled in the seventh grade. It appears that the marijuana was given to A.D. several days earlier by his adult half-brother, with instructions to deliver it to another adult half-brother. For reasons that are not clear, the delivery to his half-brother did not occur, and A.D. kept the marijuana in his school notebook. While at school with the marijuana on October 18, A.D. engaged in a conversation with another student who had indicated that he had smoked marijuana once during summer camp and would like some more. A.D. informed the student that he had marijuana and would sell it to him.[5] This conversation was overheard by another student who reported the matter to a teacher. A.D. was later taken into custody at school by the county sheriff's office and taken to a magistrate.

         On December 2, 2016, the State filed a petition requesting that A.D. be adjudicated a juvenile delinquent. A.D. was appointed counsel several days later.[6] On May 15, 2017, an adjudication by admission hearing was held before the circuit court. During that hearing, A.D. pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. A subsequent dispositional hearing was held on June 22, 2017. At the conclusion of that proceeding, the circuit court entered a dispositional order on August 7, 2017.

         The dispositional order placed A.D. on probation and home confinement until his eighteenth birthday. Some of the conditions imposed on A.D. included the following: (1) he had to wear a GPS ankle monitoring bracelet; (2) he had to submit to random alcohol and drug testing; (3) he could not leave the State without permission from the probation officer; (4) he could not go beyond 100 feet of his home; and (5) he was allowed to leave his home only for work, medical care, education, church services, or community services. During the months that followed entry of the dispositional order, the circuit court denied a request to allow A.D. to participate in a school football program, and a request to allow him to attend a family celebration of the 71st wedding anniversary of his great-grandparents.

         On November 20, 2017, A.D. was admitted to Highland Hospital for psychiatric treatment. A.D. was admitted to the hospital because of suicidal acts that included cutting himself and an attempt to hang himself. A.D. was discharged from the hospital on November 27, 2017, with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.[7]

         When counsel in this proceeding learned of A.D.'s circumstances, she filed this petition for a writ of prohibition seeking the immediate release of A.D. Our law is well established that,

[i]n determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal's order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal's order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal's order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight.

Syl. pt. 4, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W.Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).[8] The State summarily argues that the Petitioners cannot satisfy any of the Hoover factors. We

         We find that, under the facts of this case, sentencing a twelve-year-old child to home confinement until he reaches the age of eighteen, requiring him to wear a GPS ankle monitoring bracelet, submitting him to random drug and alcohol tests, and prohibiting him from going beyond 100 feet of his home “is clearly erroneous as a matter of law." The bedrock of our juvenile laws is rehabilitation, not punishment. See State v. McDonald, 173 W.Va. 263, 267, 314 S.E.2d 854, 858 (1984) (“We have long recognized that the purpose of our juvenile law is to promote the rehabilitation of troubled children, rather than to punish them."). West Virginia Code ' 49-4-714(b) (2015) provides unequivocally and in mandatory language that “[t]he court shall make all reasonable efforts to place the juvenile in the least restrictive alternative appropriate to the needs of the juvenile and the community." In interpreting this statute, we have held as follows:

In considering the least restrictive dispositional alternative for sentencing a juvenile, a juvenile court must consider the reasonable prospects for rehabilitation of the child as they appear at the time of the dispositional hearing, with due weight given to any improvement in the child's behavior between the time the offense was committed and the time sentence is passed.

Syl. pt. 3, State ex rel. S J C. v. Fox, 165 W.Va. 314, 268 S.E.2d 56 (1980).

         There is nothing in the record to support the conclusion that the circuit court followed its mandatory duty to consider the least restrictive alternative for sentencing A.D. The dispositional order set out only one finding to support the draconian punishment imposed on A.D. That finding merely stated that A.D. Ahas failed to understand the seriousness of this act[.]" The single finding of fact set out in the circuit court's dispositional order is inconsistent with the requirements of Rule 39(a)(1) of the West Virginia Rules of Juvenile Procedure, which states in part:

The dispositional order by the court shall contain written findings of fact to support the disposition and shall contain ...

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