In re Interest of Steven S.

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In re Interest of Steven S.

Caselaw No.
No. S-17-1155
Filed on
Friday, March 23, 2018

Summary: Steven appeals an order of the Separate Juvenile Court of Lancaster County transferring his case to county court. The standard of review is a matter of first impression. The Court here finds no abuse of discretion in the transfer and so affirms.

Steven was being transported to YRTC Kearney in September 2017 when he and another youth escaped the car. They were both apprehended later by law enforcement. The State filed a petition in Juvenile Court with a simultaneous motion to transfer to County Court.

The Juvenile Court held a transfer hearing. Evidence presented showed that Steven had a history with law enforcement dating back to 2011. He has been committed to OJS and probation in the past. He has had multiple out of home placements including the Lancaster County Youth Services Center multiple times, a group home in Iowa, PRTF, a group home, YRTC, Cedars Sarpy County Detention and back to YRTC for a second time. He also ran from several of his placements between 2011 and 2017. He never turned himself in from his times on run and also was not compliant with an ankle monitor on any of the times he was on it.

In September 2016, he had a mental health and substance use evaluation where it was discussed he struggles with impulsivity, oppositional behaviors, and difficulty regulating his emotions. He does not have a substance use disorder.

On the positive side of things, Steven attended high school, obtained good grades, and his teachers liked him, although he was not on track to graduate due to the times he has been missing.

Steven has suffered trauma in his life including the death of his father and a firework injury that caused him to lose parts of his fingers and hearing loss.

In October 2017, he had a neuropsychological, although the doctor did not have any notes from YRTC or his school record. The doctor believed he needed treatment for PTSD and that the Juvenile Court would better be able to meet these needs for rehabilitation services.

The Juvenile Court found that under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-276, Steven is an ongoing risk to the public and not willing to cooperate with treatment services. The only option for the Juvenile Court would be recommitment to the YRTC, and he would age out in 16 months. The Court recognized Steven’s chaotic upbringing, but did not believe that it could do anything more for him and so concluded that the matter should be transferred to the County Court.

Steven assigns error that the Court found sufficient evidence to transfer his case.

The standard of review is a matter of first impression for transfer cases. Different standards were suggested by the parties. The Court finds that a de novo review on the record for an abuse of discretion is the correct standard because it provides the proper balance for accomplishing the purposes of the juvenile code and the criminal code. If evidence is in conflict, an appellate court may give weight to the lower court’s observation of the witnesses.

Applying this standard, the Court looks at the 15 statutory factors for a Juvenile Court to consider laid out in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-276 for a transfer. These factors are a balancing test of public protection against the practical rehabilitation of the juvenile.

One factor the Court considers here is the type of treatment that Steven would be amenable to. The evidence is in dispute because the doctor performing the neuropsychological found that the Juvenile Court would better be able to treat Steven’s PTSD. However, his probation officer felt that probation had offered everything it could. Steven has been in front of the Court since 2011 and received multiple services that have failed and so the Court here finds that Steven is not amenable to treatment in the Juvenile Court.

Other factors considered include the fact that Steven tried to run when being recommitted to YRTC, which is the only placement option open to him at this point. Public safety therefore weighs in favor of transfer. He may also need supervision beyond his 19th birthday, which would weigh in favor of transfer.

Factors weighing against transfer include that Steven’s best interests would be better served by remaining in Juvenile Court, he has not used or possessed a firearm, and adolescent brain development research.

Steven would not be eligible for diversion.

The Court here finds no abuse of discretion by the Juvenile Court in transferring the case to County Court. Adult court does not eliminate a disposition under the juvenile code, which may be better for handling Steven’s mental health and trauma. Also, adult probation could work with him for up to five years.

The Juvenile Court’s order is therefore affirmed.