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In re D.C.D.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

October 18, 2017


          ARGUED: March 8, 2017

         Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 999 MDA 2014 dated September 11, 2015 Affirming the Order of the York County Court of Common Pleas at No(s). CP-67-JV-0000720-2012 and CP-67-DP-0000166-2013 dated May 12, 2014.



          BAER, JUSTICE

         We granted review in this case to consider what constitutes a "compelling reason" for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pennsylvania Rule of Juvenile Court Procedure 632.[1] After review, we conclude that the Superior Court properly determined that the juvenile court acted within its discretion in granting early termination to the juvenile in this case to allow him to obtain necessary and immediate treatment, after properly taking into account the three aspects of balanced and restorative justice (BARJ) embodied in the Juvenile Act and incorporated into the Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure: "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. §§ 6301(b)(2) ("Short title and purposes of chapter"), 6352(a) ("Disposition of delinquent child"); see also Pa.R.J.C.P. 101 (C) ("These rules shall be interpreted and construed to effectuate the purposes stated in the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 6301(b)."). Accordingly, we affirm the Superior Court's judgment, which affirmed the grant of early termination of delinquency.

         At the time of the May 2014 delinquency termination hearing at issue herein, D.C.D. was an intellectually low-functioning and socially immature twelve-year-old boy who was a victim of sexual abuse. To understand the factors at play in the delinquency termination hearing, we first consider D.C.D.'s history in the delinquency system. He originally entered the delinquency system in the fall of 2012, at age ten, due to allegations that he committed indecent assault[2] against his five-year-old sister.[3] Rather than formally adjudicating him delinquent at that time, the juvenile court entered a consent decree pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 6340, which allows for the suspension of delinquency proceedings prior to formal adjudication, and placed D.C.D. in a specialized foster care program administered by Pressley Ridge.[4]

         In the spring of 2013, a few months after being placed in his first foster care home, D.C.D. was alleged to have left notes of a sexual nature for his foster care home's neighbor in regard to the neighbor's young daughter, which led to a charge of harassment by communication, an act of delinquency which also constituted a violation of his consent decree.[5] The parties agreed to allow D.C.D. to continue on the original consent decree but transferred him to a second foster home.

         While on a home visit to his biological family in July 2013, D.C.D. allegedly attempted to start a fire in his room, which constituted another violation of the consent decree. Soon thereafter, in August of 2013, D.C.D. was found to be dependent due to his parents' inability to provide necessary care or control for reasons not directly related to the issues before this Court. In accord with the finding of dependency, the juvenile court transferred legal and physical custody to the York County Office of Children, Youth, and Families (CYF), which would serve as the lead agency, while Juvenile Probation continued to maintain concurrent supervision of D.C.D. pursuant to the consent decree.

         In September 2013, following new allegations of inappropriate behavior while living in his second foster home, D.C.D. was removed from that home and temporarily placed in a respite foster care home and subsequently in the shelter care unit at the York County Youth Development Center. At the time, Pressley Ridge, D.C.D.'s foster care provider, indicated that it was unable to provide another foster care placement for him due to his history. Order of 9/11/13. Although the parties agreed that a residential treatment facility (RTF) was necessary for D.C.D., CYF had difficulty finding a bed for him in a RTF given that most of the providers offering services for juvenile sexual offenders and fire-starters did not treat children under twelve. Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 9/25/13, at 5. Indeed, D.C.D. remained in shelter care at the youth development center for nearly a month before being accepted and moved into the Sarah Reed Residential Treatment Facility. D.C.D. initially adjusted well to Sarah Reed and observed proper behavioral boundaries, other than a few incidents of not respecting other patients' personal space.

         Nevertheless, given that the prior incidents involving the harassment and fire-starting constituted violations of his consent decree, CYF sought a combined placement review and dispositional review hearing, which was held in January 2014. At the hearing, D.C.D. was adjudicated delinquent as he admitted to the acts charged and because the court determined that he was in need of treatment and supervision pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 6341. Specifically referencing the BARJ factors, the court concluded that continued residential treatment at the Sarah Reed facility was appropriate, as it would provide for community protection, while allowing D.C.D. to develop competencies. Order of 1/28/14 at 4-6. The court also addressed accountability, the third prong of BARJ, by assessing various fees on D.C.D. Id. at 5.

         In March 2014, the juvenile court held a hearing to address D.C.D.'s placement following a new allegation of a sexual incident involving a younger resident at Sarah Reed.[6] At that time, the parties recognized that more residential facilities were available to treat D.C.D. as he had turned twelve. However, some of the facilities were unwilling to accept children who had incidents of fire-starting, and others could not provide services for his level of intellectual functioning. Given the available options, the parties agreed that he should be moved to the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital - Choices Program (Southwood), a RTF which had a bed immediately available and which focused specifically upon his cohort: intellectually low-functioning, sexual offenders.

         Despite the parties' agreement to place D.C.D. at Southwood, Southwood informed them that it could not accept him due to his adjudication of delinquency for a sexual offense. According to testimony from the Southwood director, Southwood had an agreement with the township in which it was located not to accept juveniles currently adjudicated delinquent for a sexual offense, but the director stated that they could accept D.C.D. if the delinquency supervision was terminated.[7]

         As a result, D.C.D.'s counsel filed a motion for early termination of delinquency supervision under Pa.R.J.C.P. 632, [8] to which the York County District Attorney objected and requested a hearing. The court scheduled a two-day hearing in May 2014 to address D.C.D.'s dependency placement as well as the motion to terminate delinquency supervision. Prior to the hearing, the parties contacted at least nine potential facilities to attempt to find a suitable treatment facility for D.C.D, which would accept him while he remained "dual adjudicated", i.e., both dependent and delinquent.

         At the hearing, all participants other than the District Attorney and Juvenile Probation officer favored termination of delinquency supervision to allow D.C.D. to be transferred to Southwood. In support of termination, D.C.D.'s CYF case manager detailed the various reasons why CYF had determined that Southwood was the only appropriate facility for D.C.D. [9] N.T., 5/9/14, 46-52, 75-76. The case manager revealed that a few of the facilities contacted refused to accept D.C.D. due to his fire-starting incident or his low IQ level, some facilities were geared toward older adolescent offenders who could prey upon D.C.D., and others did not have any available beds or did not provide the necessary level of supervision. One provider, Valley Youth House, had a bed available but did not have a contract with York County. The CYF case manager testified that placing a child at a facility that did not currently have a contract with the county could take weeks or months because an agreement had to be negotiated between the county and the provider before D.C.D. could be placed. N.T., 5/9/14, at 80.

         In contrast to these unacceptable facilities, the case manager explained the benefits of Southwood. She observed that it specialized in providing treatment to low functioning children with sexual abuse offending issues. N.T., 5/9/14, at 53. Southwood additionally provided treatment on campus which would mitigate the problems that arose at Sarah Reed where D.C.D. received only three sessions of sex offender treatment during the approximately six months he was there. N.T., 5/9/14, at 53, 60. She further emphasized that not all residential treatment programs can provide therapy to lower-functioning children, which she viewed as critical to D.C.D. who did not "even understand what he is doing is wrong" and did not "fully understand what was going on [with his body]." N.T., 5/9/14, at 75-76. She testified that she was not aware of any other program that focused on low-functioning juvenile sexual offenders like D.C.D. N.T., 5/9/14, at 78-79.

         Testimony by the director of Southwood further supported D.C.D.'s placement at Southwood:

We focus our program to deal specifically with sexually reactive youth in the age range that [D.C.D.] is in, who have experienced some form of trauma history, whether that be reactive attachment or something more severe along those lines, as far as trauma is concerned, and at the same time target youth with an IQ between 60 and 110, so everything I've read about [D.C.D.] qualifies him for the program.

N.T., 5/9/14, at 113.

         D.C.D.'s juvenile probation officer testified in opposition to termination of delinquency, despite acknowledging that Southwood would be an appropriate placement. N.T., 5/12/14, at 31. As an alternative, he proposed the Abraxas Youth and Family Services Program (also referred to as South Mountain), which had two programs. One program was a secure residential facility for twelve to twenty-year-old residents, while the second program was an open (non-secure) residential program for twelve to fifteen-year-old juveniles. N.T., 5/9/14, at 90. He admitted that Abraxas only had a bed available immediately in the secure program aimed at older juveniles, and that the program appropriate for D.C.D. would not have a bed available for at least three months.[10] N.T., 5/9/14, at 90-91.

         In closing, the Commonwealth urged the court not to terminate delinquency supervision. It contended that D.C.D.'s behavior had not improved since his delinquency adjudication such that termination of delinquency was unsupported. Instead, it argued that his inappropriate behavior was increasing, observing that he was being removed from Sarah Reed because of yet another incident. N.T., 5/12/14, at 32. The Commonwealth argued in favor of D.C.D.'s placement at Abraxas, asserting it could offer appropriate treatment services without requiring termination of delinquency supervision and was in closer proximity to D.C.D.'s family than Southwood, allowing for more family visits as well as other support services such as continued contact with his guardian ad litem, his probation officer, and CYF caseworkers. It further contended that Sarah Reed was an "appropriate" placement where he could remain until a bed became available in the non-secure Abraxas program aimed at younger juveniles.[11] N.T., 5/12/14, at 35-36. The Commonwealth also averred that Southwood was a relatively unknown facility, with a cloud hanging over whether it would actually admit D.C.D. even if delinquency were terminated. N.T., 5/12/14, at 34. It further emphasized that if the court terminated delinquency supervision by Juvenile Probation, then it could not be reinstated absent D.C.D.'s commission of another act of delinquency. N.T., 5/12/14, at 34.

         Counsel for D.C.D., in contrast, emphasized that all parties had agreed that Southwood was the best facility for D.C.D. a few weeks before the hearing. N.T., 5/12/14, at 36. She observed that CYF, rather than Juvenile Probation had been the lead agency in the case, meaning that termination of delinquency supervision would have minimal effect on the supervision of D.C.D. and the services offered to him, given that Juvenile Probation was not providing any services to him. Counsel also asserted that she doubted Abraxas' ability to care for a low-functioning juvenile offender at the younger end of the facility's age range. Additionally, counsel for D.C.D.'s mother, his guardian ad litem, and counsel for Children, Youth, and Families all argued in support of terminating delinquency supervision to allow D.C.D. to be placed at Southwood.

         The juvenile court provided its decision at the close of the second day of hearings. The court recognized that the critical inquiry in the case was whether "compelling reasons" existed for early termination of delinquency for purposes of Pa.R.J.C.P. 632. The court observed that the term is not defined in Juvenile Court Rules or the Juvenile Act. Nevertheless, it reasoned that "[a] compelling argument or reason is one that convinces someone that something is true or should be done." Order of 5/12/14 at 4.

         The court then synthesized the difficulties of finding a proper placement for D.C.D. considering his treatment needs. The court observed that he was "undeniably in need of specialized care [because] he has been both a victim and perpetrator of sexual abuse; he functions at a low level and is socially immature; [and] he has exhibited fire-setting behaviors." Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Opinion at 3. The court emphasized the deficiencies in D.C.D.'s prior treatment. Specifically, it recognized that while Sarah Reed was the only facility able to treat D.C.D. in the fall of 2013 due to his age and treatment needs, it failed to provide the necessary treatment services. Order of 5/12/14 at 5. Indeed, the court found that "his immediate removal from Sarah Reed was imperative." Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Opinion at 3.

         The court reviewed the testimony regarding the referrals made to other treatment facilities, observing that most were overtly inappropriate for D.C.D. or would not accept him due to his history or their lack of space. The court narrowed the options to three facilities. It first observed that Valley Youth House had accepted D.C.D., but the county did not have a contract with that facility. Order of 5/12/14 at 7. Although not specifically noted in the decision, testimony at the hearing suggested that the absence of a contract could delay placement of D.C.D. while the parties negotiated an agreement. N.T., 5/9/14, at 80. It is apparent from other portions of the juvenile court's decision that delayed treatment was unacceptable to the court given the paucity of proper treatment provided to D.C.D. up to the date of the hearing.

         Next, the court considered Abraxas Sexual Offender Open Program. The court observed that the program aimed at younger offenders would not have a bed available for D.C.D. until at least July or August. Order of 5/12/14 at 7. As the court later explained in its 1925(a) opinion, it concluded that the three-month delay in treatment would be contrary to D.C.D.'s best interest. Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Opinion at 4 n.1.

         The court recognized that Southwood's director testified that D.C.D. would be unacceptable to the program so long as he was actively supervised as a delinquent child, but would be acceptable if he was only a dependent child. Order of 5/12/14 at 8. Considering all the factors, the court concluded that no compelling reason to terminate delinquency supervision would have existed if a bed had been available in the appropriate program at Abraxas. However, because there was no bed available until August, the court concluded that the only alternatives were to transfer him to Southwood or permit him to remain at Sarah Reed. The court had no hesitation in rejecting continued placement at Sarah Reed. Emphasizing that he had received only three sessions of outpatient sex offender therapy during his time at Sarah Reed, the court concluded that the facility could not provide effective treatment for D.C.D. and emphasized that it was "of grave concern to the [c]ourt that he remains in that facility despite the [c]ourt's ruling [in March] that it is not appropriate for his care." Id. at 9.

         The court opined that its decision to terminate delinquency supervision was consistent with the purposes of the Juvenile Act, which provides for "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. § 6301. Although the court did not specifically categorize its reasons for delinquency termination using the BARJ terminology identified in Section 6301, its reasoning on each factor can be discerned nonetheless. Indeed, the court recognized that competency development in the near term leads to community protection in the future as it observed that its "paramount concern" was to provide D.C.D. with the treatment needed to enable him to become a responsible, law-abiding citizen upon completion of treatment. See Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) Opinion at 4-5.

         Similarly, the court addressed both community protection and competency development goals when it emphasized that D.C.D. would continue to be supervised by CYF, which had been acting as the lead agency in his care and supervision. Moreover, the court emphasized that it would continue to review the case on a regular basis to determine if placement was appropriate, a review which would again serve both protection and competency development functions. Order of 5/12/14 at 10-11.

         Moreover, the court directed D.C.D. to pay restitution, which it had previously imposed to satisfy the accountability prong of BARJ. Order of 5/12/14 at 11; see also Order of 1/28/12 at 5.

         The court emphasized its concerns regarding the delay in providing D.C.D. needed treatment and indicated that the determination of compelling reasons for early termination hinged on the ability of D.C.D. to be transferred to Southwood within days of the order. The court directed that if D.C.D. were not transferred into the facility that same week, the court would reconsider its determination within the 30 days allowed for appeal. The court further indicated that if D.C.D. was not able to be placed at Southwood, then he should be transferred to Abraxas as soon as a bed became available.[12]

         The Commonwealth appealed the termination of delinquency to the Superior Court, raising the single assertion that the Juvenile Court erred in granting D.C.D early termination of delinquency supervision. Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) Statement. The Superior Court summarized the Commonwealth's arguments as asserting that "the juvenile court abused its discretion in granting D.C.D.'s motion when (1) other treatment options were available under delinquency supervision, and (2) the court failed to adequately consider the protection of the community" by focusing exclusively on D.C.D.'s rehabilitation. See In the Interest of D.C.D., 124 A.3d 736, 737 (Pa. Super. 2015).

         In considering the Commonwealth's argument, the Superior Court recognized that Rule 632 allows for early termination of delinquency for "compelling reasons, " despite the juvenile's failure to meet the usual requirements for termination of delinquency supervision under Rule 631, which include the juvenile completing the terms of his or her disposition order, paying restitution in full, and not committing any new offenses. Pa.R.J.C.P. 631, infra at 21 n.17. It observed, however, the neither the juvenile court rules nor caselaw have explained what constitutes "compelling reasons" for early termination. In re D.C.D., 124 A.3d at 740.

         After reviewing the testimony set forth above, the Superior Court opined that compelling reasons existed to warrant the early termination of D.C.D.'s delinquency supervision, given the limited placement options. The Superior Court rejected the Commonwealth's argument that the juvenile court insufficiently weighed the significance of the community protection and accountability factors of BARJ. Instead, it concluded that the juvenile court "considered all of the relevant factors before concluding that D.C.D.'s need for the specialized treatment offered at Southwood outweighed the need for his supervision by juvenile probation." Id. at 744.

         The Superior Court additionally accepted D.C.D.'s argument that transferring him to Southwood to enable him to obtain appropriate treatment in fact benefitted the community in contrast to letting him "languish for months waiting for a bed in a facility that was not capable of treating his specialized issues." Id. at 744 (quoting D.C.D. Brief to the Superior Court at 12). Apparently addressing the consideration of community protection, the Superior Court further observed that D.C.D. would continue to be monitored by CYF and the juvenile court. The court, therefore, concluded that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in granting early termination of ...

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