Juvie law alterations approved

December 11, 2012

The state Supreme Court on Monday adopted changes to appellate court procedures that will allow for an expedited review of cases in which a juvenile was placed in an out-of-home facility.

The changes address a long-standing concern of juvenile justice advocates, who noted in many cases juveniles had already completed their detention by the time an appellate court reviewed their cases.

The Supreme Court's order clears the way for the Superior Court to set up a special review process of a judge's decision to place a child in a facility, short of a complete review of the child's case.

The change was prompted by recommendations made by the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, a special tribunal formed in 2010 to investigate shortcomings in the juvenile justice system after the arrest of former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan.

Ciavarella, the county's juvenile judge for many years, was accused of unnecessarily placing juveniles at detention centers as part of a scheme to financially benefit himself, Conahan and others.

The rules are designed to provide meaningful review of a judge's decision to remove a juvenile from his or her home, Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, a member of the committee who proposed the change, said in a press release.

The rule change applies only to juveniles who are detained in an out-of-home placement and not those who are placed on probation or some other outpatient service that allows them to remain home.

The court will review only the judge's decision to detain a youth. It will not review the merits of the case relating to the finding of guilt by the judge. That determination will continue to be handled through ordinary appellate court channels.

The rule change requires challenges to the detention decision be filed within 10 days. The judge would then have five days to respond to the petition to explain his or her reasoning.

With this new procedure, we hope the bright light of appellate review will quickly correct legal and procedural errors, promote uniformity and consistency, and reassure parents that out-of-home placement decision will be subject to timely review by the Superior Court, Jubelirer said.