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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. EASTER FEICK (01/05/82)

SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


filed: January 5, 1982.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA,
v.
EASTER FEICK, APPELLANT

No. 565 Pittsburgh, 1980, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, of Allegheny County, at No. J 104 1980.

COUNSEL

John H. Corbett, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Robert L. Eberhardt, Deputy District Attorney, Pittsburgh, for Commonwealth, appellee.

James H. McLean, Pittsburgh, for participating party.

Price, Montgomery and Van der Voort, JJ. Price, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Montgomery

[ 294 Pa. Super. Page 111]

This appeal arises from the adjudication of appellant as delinquent pursuant to the Juvenile Act,*fn1 upon a finding of contempt by the Honorable Patrick R. Tamilia. For the following reasons, we vacate the order of the lower court and reverse judgment of sentence.

The record evinces that appellant, who at the time of adjudication was sixteen years of age, suffered from physical and psychological parental abuse. The lower court assumed jurisdiction over her on January 15, 1980. A hearing was held on January 23, 1980, at which time she was found to be dependent under the Juvenile Act,*fn2 and placed under the supervision of Children and Youth Services at McIntyre Shelter*fn3 pending evaluation and/or placement. Appellant ran away from the shelter and her whereabouts were unknown for several months. When located, appellant was detained at Shuman Center, a secure facility designed for delinquent children, while she awaited the filing and disposition

[ 294 Pa. Super. Page 112]

    of a delinquency petition charging her with violation of a court order in running away from McIntyre Shelter. As stated earlier, the lower court found her in contempt and adjudicated her delinquent.

The sole issue for our consideration is whether the juvenile court had a sufficient basis for adjudicating appellant delinquent. Our court was recently faced with this question as a matter of first impression. Interest of Taessing H., 281 Pa. Super. 400, 422 A.2d 530 (1980). The majority in Taessing found that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate a child charged with contempt delinquent. Though two members of the three judge panel agreed to the disposition in Taessing, their rationales differed. The author of the majority opinion deduced that the contempt, which resulted from a runaway incident the same as that herein, was civil and not criminal. It was, therefore, erroneous to adjudicate the juvenile delinquent. The concurring judge based his agreement with the majority's disposition on the premise that though the contempt was criminal, the underlying conduct was not a crime under the Juvenile Act, and, therefore, could not be the basis for an adjudication of delinquency. We agree with and are bound by the majority opinion in Taessing.

In order for a juvenile to be found delinquent, the contempt for which he or she is cited must be a crime under the law of this Commonwealth. 42 Pa.C.S. § 6302. There are two classes of contempt, civil and criminal, which are distinguishable according to the prevailing purpose and objective of the court's order. Commonwealth v. Marcone, 487 Pa. 572, 410 A.2d 759 (1980); In re "B"., 482 Pa. 471, 394 A.2d 419 (1978). A citation is for criminal contempt if the court's purpose was to vindicate the dignity and authority of the court and to protect the interest of the general public. If the purpose of the citation is to coerce the contemnor into compliance with the order of the court to do or refrain from doing some act primarily for the benefit of the litigant or a private interest, it is civil contempt. Commonwealth v. Charlett, 481 Pa. 22, 27, 391 A.2d 1296, 1298 (1978); citing

[ 294 Pa. Super. Page 113]

The error of the lower court's action is further compounded by the fact that the act of running away from shelter care is a status offense,*fn6 which renders the instant adjudication of delinquency beyond the authority of the juvenile court. In promulgating the amendments to the Juvenile Act, our General Assembly determined that status offenders should not be classified as delinquent children. The result was the reclassification of status offenses as dependency matters as opposed to delinquent acts. Compare, Act of December 6, 1972, P.L. 1464, No. 333, § 2, with, Act of August 3, 1977, P.L. 155, No. 41, § 1.*fn7 Though the present Act, in and of itself, does not contain specific language as to such a change, when compared to the prior Act, the legislative intent to separate status offenses and delinquent acts is clear. Specifically, prior to 1977, status offenses such as truancy, running away, and ungovernability were classified under the Juvenile Act as delinquent acts. The reclassification effected by the 1977 amendments is embodied in the definition of a dependent child. See, 42 Pa.C.S. § 6302(5), (6), (8), (9). A careful comparative reading of the Acts of 1972 and 1977, leaves no doubt as to the intent of the legislature. As status offenses are not to be considered delinquent acts, the commission of such an offense is not sufficient criminal conduct which could lead the juvenile court to find a status offender delinquent. Our characterization of the contempt as civil herein and in Interest of Taessing H., supra, which is buttressed by our categorization of the conduct in question as a status offense, results in a

[ 294 Pa. Super. Page 115]

    determination that the juvenile court erroneously adjudicated appellant delinquent.

Accordingly, we vacate the adjudication of delinquency and disposition based thereon as beyond the authority of the juvenile court, and this matter is remanded to the juvenile court for appropriate disposition consistent with this opinion. We relinquish jurisdiction.


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