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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. In the Interest of M.W

February 21, 2012

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
IN THE INTEREST OF M.W., APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered on April 28, 2010 at No. 2801 EDA 2007, vacating the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Family Division, Juvenile Branch, dated September 5, 2007 at No. 6130707 and remanding the case The opinion of the court was delivered by: Madame Justice Todd

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.

SUBMITTED: March 22, 2011

OPINION

In this discretionary appeal, we consider whether, under Pennsylvania's Juvenile Act,*fn1 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. Upon review, we hold 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. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Superior Court.

On July 28, 2007, the Commonwealth filed a delinquency petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County against M.W., alleging that he and another youth robbed an individual who had just left a local bar. At an adjudicatory hearing on August 14, 2007, before the Honorable Brenda Frazier-Clemons, the juvenile court found that

M.W. committed the delinquent acts of robbery,*fn2 conspiracy,*fn3 and related charges. The juvenile court deferred adjudication, however, placing M.W. on interim probation and continuing the matter to September 5, 2007. Later that same day, M.W. was adjudicated delinquent by another juvenile court judge on a separate delinquency petition, which alleged a misdemeanor theft from a motor vehicle,*fn4 and M.W. was committed to St. Gabriel's Hall for treatment, rehabilitation, and supervision. Thereafter, at the September 5 hearing on the first petition, Judge Frazier-Clemons 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." N.T. Hearing, 9/5/07, at 9.

The Commonwealth filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied, and the Commonwealth appealed to the Superior Court, wherein 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 delinquency petition. On April 23, 2009, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court reversed. M.W. filed a petition for reargument en banc, which was granted on July 1, 2009, and the Superior Court withdrew its original decision that same day. On April 28, 2010, in a published opinion, the en banc panel of the Superior Court reversed and remanded for entry of an adjudication of delinquency against M.W. In doing so, the Superior Court first considered the language of the Juvenile Act, stating:

Under the Juvenile Act, a juvenile proceeding may commence when a petition is filed indicating a juvenile has committed delinquent acts. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6321(a)(3). . . . After the filing of a petition, the juvenile court holds an adjudicatory hearing at which evidence on the petition for delinquency is heard. "After hearing the evidence on the petition [for delinquency,] the court shall make and file its findings as to whether ... the acts ascribed to the child were committed by him." 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6341(a). "If the court finds that . the allegations of delinquency have not been established[,] it shall dismiss the petition and order the child discharged from any detention or other restriction theretofore ordered in the proceeding." Id. Conversely, "[i]f the court finds on proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the child committed the acts by reason of which he is alleged to be delinquent[,] it shall enter such finding on the record and shall specify the particular offenses, including the grading and counts thereof which the child is found to have committed." Id. § 6341(b).

After the juvenile court has entered an adjudication of delinquency on the record, the court must hold a hearing to determine a disposition which is "consistent with the protection of the public interest and best suited to the child's treatment, supervision, rehabilitation, and welfare[.]" 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6352(a).

Commonwealth v. In the Interest of M.W., 994 A.2d 620, 622 (Pa. Super. 2010) (en banc) (emphasis and alterations original) (case citations omitted).

The court below also considered its prior holdings in the companion cases of In the Interest of M.M., 870 A.2d 385 (Pa. Super. 2005), and Commonwealth v. In the Interest of D.M., 870 A.2d 383 (Pa. Super. 2005). In those cases, two juveniles committed a series of car thefts which resulted in eight separate delinquency petitions against them. The juvenile court entered adjudications of delinquency on two of the petitions, finding that the juveniles were in need of supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation. The juvenile court deferred adjudication on the remaining six petitions to allow the juveniles to perform community service and make restitution on the first two petitions. Two months later, the juvenile court dismissed the six outstanding petitions, finding the juveniles did not need additional supervision, treatment, or rehabilitation because they had already received the necessary treatment The Commonwealth appealed, and the Superior Court determined that the juvenile court erred in dismissing the six petitions because "the Juvenile Act requires the court to adjudicate a child delinquent when it is proven that the child . . . committed the acts which formed the basis of the petition for delinquency." M.M., 870 A.2d at 388; D.M., 870 A.2d at 385.

In the instant case, the Superior Court concluded:

Based upon the plain language of the Juvenile Act and this Court's holdings in M.M. and D.M., we hold that after a petition for delinquency has been filed, the juvenile court must determine whether the juvenile committed the acts alleged in the petition. If the court finds that the juvenile has committed the acts which underlie the petition, it must enter an adjudication of delinquency on the record. After the entry of an adjudication of delinquency, the juvenile court must then determine whether the child requires treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation so as to protect the public interest.

M.W., 994 A.2d at 623-24 (emphasis original). Thus, the court vacated the juvenile court's dismissal of the delinquency petition and remanded the case to the juvenile court with the instruction that the juvenile court first enter an adjudication of delinquency against M.W. on the record, and then consider M.W.'s need for treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation, and enter a separate dispositional order with respect thereto.

In a Concurring Opinion, Judge Christine Donahue agreed that, in light of the juvenile court's determination that M.W. committed the crime charged and was in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation,*fn5 the court "erred in failing to adjudicate M.W delinquent." Id. at 625 (Donahue, J., concurring). Judge Donahue disagreed, however, with the majority's determination "that the Juvenile Act requires an adjudication of delinquency based solely upon a finding by the trial court that the juvenile committed the acts underlying the petition." Id.*fn6 Judge Donahue noted that Section 6302 of the Juvenile Act defines a "delinquent child" as "[a] child ten years of age or older whom the court has found to have committed a delinquent act and is need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation," id. (emphasis original), and, in accordance with that definition, concluded an adjudication of delinquency requires both a finding that the child has committed the delinquent act alleged in the petition for delinquency, and a finding that the child is in need of treatment or rehabilitation.

Judge Donahue further observed that the majority quoted only the first sentence of Section 6341(b) of the Juvenile Act in support of its determination that the juvenile court is required to enter an adjudication of delinquency upon a finding that the juvenile committed the acts alleged in the petition:

[T]his [sentence describes] only one part of the procedure set forth by our Legislature to determine the proper treatment (if any) for children who commit acts that would be considered crimes if they were adults. After determining that the child committed the act complained of beyond a reasonable doubt, the trial court must then, either immediately or at a postponed hearing, receive evidence regarding whether the child is need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation. If the juvenile court finds that the child is in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation, it must adjudicate the child delinquent and order the appropriate care and treatment in accordance with the purposes of the Juvenile Act. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6341(b). "If the court finds that the child is not in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation it shall dismiss the proceeding and discharge the child from any detention or any other restriction theretofore ordered." Id. This statutory language belies the contention that only a finding of guilt is required for an adjudication of delinquency. Id. at 625-26.

Finally, Judge Donahue observed that, even where a juvenile is found to have committed an act that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult, the juvenile court is not required to impose treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation in all cases. Rather, she noted Section 6341(b) provides that "in the absence of evidence to the contrary, evidence of the commission of acts which constitute a felony shall be sufficient to sustain a finding that the child is in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation," id. at 622-23, suggesting that, where there is evidence that the juvenile does not need treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation, a finding that the child committed the alleged offenses does not require an adjudication of delinquency.

M.W. filed a petition for allowance of appeal with this Court, and we granted review limited to the following issue:

Does the Juvenile Act require a juvenile court to enter on the record an adjudication of delinquency once the court finds that the juvenile has committed the acts alleged in the delinquency petition, or is an additional finding that the juvenile is in need of treatment, ...


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