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In re N.C.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 18, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF: N.C., A MINOR APPEAL OF: N.C.

         Appeal from the Dispositional Order September 7, 2016 in the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County Juvenile Division at No(s): CP-17-JV-0000071-2012 CP-17-JV-0000036-2016

          BEFORE: STABILE, J., FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., and STRASSBURGER, [*] J.

          OPINION

          STRASSBURGER, J.

          N.C. (Appellant) appeals from the dispositional order[1] entered on September 7, 2016, following his adjudication of delinquency for indecent assault person less than 13 years of age, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3126 (indecent assault). We vacate the dispositional order and reverse the adjudication of delinquency.

         In February 2012, a petition was filed alleging that then 14-year-old Appellant was a delinquent child because Appellant touched a three-year-old in the genital area, which constituted aggravated indecent assault (a felony) and indecent assault (a misdemeanor). Deliquency Petition, 2/21/2012, at 1-2. In May 2012, after a contested hearing, the juvenile court in Jefferson County determined that Appellant had engaged in a delinquent act constituting aggravated indecent assault. Order, 5/11/2012. Because Appellant resided in Clearfield County, the case was transferred to the juvenile court in Clearfield County for adjudication and disposition. Id. In July 2012, the juvenile court in Clearfield County adjudicated Appellant delinquent of one count of aggravated indecent assault, and ordered Appellant to be placed on probation for one year, which was to run consecutively to a probation violation disposition imposed in a separate matter. Order, 7/19/2012.

         Appellant appealed the disposition to this Court, arguing that the juvenile court erred by admitting recorded statements by the child-victim into evidence during the adjudicatory hearing. This Court agreed, holding that admission of the statements violated Appellant's right to confrontation provided by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In re N.C. , 74 A.3d 271 (Pa. Super. 2013). We vacated Appellant's disposition and remanded for a new adjudication, and our holding was later affirmed on appeal. In re N.C. , 103 A.3d 1199 (Pa. 2014).

         As part of the disposition of Appellant's probation violation, which related to Appellant's engaging in harassment by communication stemming from "sexting" girls at his school, the juvenile court placed Appellant at Appalachian Youth Services (AYS) in July 2012.[2] Juvenile Court Opinion, 11/28/2016, at 1. While his appeal was pending, Appellant received sexual offender treatment at AYS. Id. After Appellant was discharged from AYS to the care of his mother, the juvenile court ordered Appellant to attend the sexual offender program at Project Point of Light, which he completed on July 9, 2014. Id. at 1-2. Thus, by the time the case was remanded, Appellant had successfully completed two court-ordered sexual offender treatment programs. He also completed his term of probation without incident, graduated from high school, and was a rising university freshman. N.T., 6/18/2016, at 4, 9.

         After remand, Appellant, then age 18, tendered an admission to indecent assault, and the juvenile court in Jefferson County accepted his admission and transferred the case to the juvenile court in Clearfield County for adjudication and disposition. Adjudicatory Hearing Order, 2/24/2016, at 1. After conducting a hearing on August 18, 2016, the juvenile court determined that Appellant was in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation, and adjudicated Appellant delinquent of indecent assault. Adjudicatory/Dispositional Hearing Order, 9/7/2016, at 1-2. The juvenile court rendered its disposition at the same time, placing Appellant on probation for one year less one day and ordering Appellant to complete a psychosexual evaluation at Project Point of Light, to pay court costs, and to have no contact with the victim. Id. at 2.

         After filing a post-dispositional motion, which the juvenile court denied, Appellant timely filed a notice of appeal. Both Appellant and the juvenile court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925. On appeal, Appellant asks this Court to decide whether the juvenile court abused its discretion in adjudicating Appellant delinquent, arguing there was a lack of evidentiary support to sustain the finding that Appellant was in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation. Appellant's Brief at 5. Appellant also questions whether the juvenile court subjected Appellant to unconstitutional punishment in violation of the double jeopardy and due process clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions by imposing additional and extended punishment upon him. Id.

         Before we begin our analysis of Appellant's first issue, we must consider whether it is moot. At oral argument, counsel for Appellant informed the Court that Appellant underwent his court-ordered psychosexual evaluation and was due to be released from probation in August 2017. Nevertheless, Appellant argued that his first issue is not moot because he is contesting his adjudication, not his disposition, and if this Court should rule that the juvenile court erred by finding him to be in need of treatment, the Court is able to enter an order that has legal effect because the appropriate remedy would be to reverse the adjudication order.

We consider the following in determining whether a case is moot.
As a general rule, an actual case or controversy must exist at all stages of the judicial process, or a case will be dismissed as moot. An issue can become moot during the pendency of an appeal due to an intervening change in the facts of the case or due to an intervening change in the applicable law. … An issue before a court is moot if in ruling upon the issue the court cannot enter an order that has any legal force or effect.

In re R.D., 44 A.3d 657, 679-80 (Pa. Super. 2012) (citations omitted).

         We agree with Appellant that his first issue is not moot for the reasons he articulated. See In Interest of Kilianek, 378 A.2d 995, 995 (Pa. Super. 1977) (holding that juvenile's challenge to her adjudication, which claimed that juvenile court improperly adjudicated her delinquent despite not meeting the legal standard for delinquency, was not rendered moot upon her release from out-of-home placement); In Interest of DelSignore, 375 A.2d 803, 807 (Pa. Super. 1977) (deciding juvenile's challenge regarding sufficiency of evidence to support adjudication, but holding objection to placement was rendered moot upon her release from the placement); R.D., 44 A.3d at 679-80 (deciding issues relating to adjudication, but holding that juvenile's challenge to his disposition was rendered moot upon his release from the delinquency placement).

         Therefore, we turn our attention to our standard of review of dispositional orders following delinquency adjudications in juvenile proceedings. The Juvenile Act grants broad discretion to juvenile courts, and we will not disturb the lower court's disposition absent a manifest abuse of discretion. In re C.A.G., 89 A.3d 704, 709 (Pa. Super. 2014); In the Interest of J.D., 798 A.2d 210, 213 (Pa. Super. 2002).

         Before entering an adjudication of delinquency, "the Juvenile Act requires a juvenile court to find that a child has committed a delinquent act and that the child is in need of treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation." Commonwealth v. M.W., 39 A.3d 958, 964 (Pa. 2012) (emphasis in original). "A determination that a child has committed a delinquent act does not, on its own, warrant an adjudication of delinquency." Id. at 966. See also In re T.L.B., 127 A.3d 813 (Pa. Super. 2015) (holding that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in finding the appellee was not in need of treatment, rehabilitation, or supervision when, by the time of the deferred adjudication hearing, appellee ...


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