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In Re: J.M.

April 9, 2012


Appeal from the Order May 31, 2011, Court of Common Pleas, Clearfield County, Criminal Division at No. CP-17-JV-0000077-2010

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donohue, J.:



J.M. appeals from the May 31, 2011 dispositional order, providing for ten days to one year of incarceration, which was entered following the revocation of J.M.'s probation. We are asked to consider whether a juvenile court may impose a term of incarceration on a person over the age of 18 years but under the age of 21 years for a violation of probation that was imposed as part of the disposition in a delinquency adjudication in juvenile court. Because we conclude that the language of the Juvenile Act*fn2 prohibits such a result, we vacate the dispositional order and remand to the juvenile court.

The record reveals that J.M. has a significant history in the juvenile justice system, having first been adjudicated delinquent in 2007 when he was 14 years old. Since that time, J.M. has appeared before the juvenile court for various offenses, including burglary and, most recently, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. As a result of his serial adjudications,

J.M. was placed in numerous residential juvenile facilities for varying lengths of time. He was most recently released from a juvenile facility on March 17, 2011, approximately one week following his 18th birthday.*fn3 At that time, he remained on probation under the supervision of the juvenile court.

While on probation, on April 18, 2011, J.M. and another individual stole $280 from the gymnasium locker room in the DuBois High School. Consequently, J.M. was charged as an adult with theft and receiving stolen property. The juvenile court held a violation of probation hearing, at which time J.M. admitted violating the terms of his probation as a result of the April 18 incident. After recounting J.M.'s history in the juvenile system including numerous placements and the resulting monetary expense to Clearfield County because of these prior placements, the juvenile court ultimately entered a dispositional order providing that J.M. be incarcerated for ten days to one year in the Clearfield County jail.*fn4 Because it understood that J.M. intended to challenge its authority to incarcerate him in the adult facility, the juvenile court simultaneously stayed the order. Post- dispositional motions were filed and denied, and this timely appeal from the order of disposition followed.

J.M. asks whether the "Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County had the authority to impose a period of incarceration under the Juvenile Act?" Appellant's Brief at 7. This issue challenges the authority of the juvenile court to impose the disposition in question; as such, it is a challenge to the legality of the disposition. In re S.A.S., 839 A.2d 1106, 1107 (Pa. Super. 2003). Accordingly, our standard of review for such a claim is plenary, and it is limited to determining whether the lower court committed an error of law. Commonwealth v. Leverette, 911 A.2d 998, 1001-02 (Pa. Super. 2006).

J.M.'s argument on appeal is straightforward. He contends that the Juvenile Act prohibits the detention of children in adult facilities and that because he falls under the definition of a child pursuant to the Juvenile Act, the juvenile court erred by ordering his incarceration. Appellant's Brief at

10. For the following reasons, we agree.

Resolution of the question of whether J.M. qualifies as a child under the terms of the Juvenile Act and whether the Juvenile Act authorizes the incarceration of a child in an adult detention facility requires the interpretation of a statute. Statutory interpretation is a question of law, and our review, as an appellate court, is plenary. In re L.C., II, 900 A.2d 378, 380 (Pa. Super. 2006). "The object of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly. Every statute shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions." 1 Pa.C.S.A § 1921(a). "Given that the language of a statute is the best indication of the General Assembly's intentions, there is no need to look beyond the plain meaning of a statute when the words of it are explicit." Day v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of Borough of Carlisle, 593 Pa. 448, 457, 931 A.2d 646, 652 (2007).

When enacting the Juvenile Act, the Legislature directed that the statute be interpreted and construed to effectuate certain enumerated purposes including:

(2) Consistent with the protection of the public interest, to provide for children committing delinquent acts programs of supervision, care and rehabilitation which provide balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed and the development of competencies to enable children to become responsible and productive members of the community.

42 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 6301(b)(2). "This section evidences the Legislature's clear intent to protect the community while rehabilitating and reforming juvenile delinquents." In re ...

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