C.H., Matter of

Decision Date29 May 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-26,83-26
Citation683 P.2d 931,210 Mont. 184,41 St.Rep. 997
PartiesIn the Matter of C.H., A Youth under the age of Eighteen.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Jackson Law Firm, James A. Rice, Jr. argued, Helena, for appellant.

Mike Greely, Atty. Gen., James Scheier argued, Asst. Atty. Gen., Mike McGrath, County Atty., Helena, for respondent.

WEBER, Justice.

C.H., a youth under the age of 18, appeals from two orders of the Youth Court of Lewis and Clark County: (1) an order adjudging her to be a delinquent youth and sending her to Mountain View School for Girls for a 45-day predispositional evaluation; and (2) an order placing her on formal probation for one year. We affirm these orders of the Youth Court.

The stipulated statement of the issue on appeal is: Whether the Montana Youth Court Act, which allows a youth in need of supervision, who has violated her probation, to be adjudged a delinquent youth, is unconstitutional as a violation of the due process, equal protection, and/or cruel and unusual punishment provisions of the United States and Montana Constitutions. Appellant asserts that a juvenile status offender who violates the terms of her probation should not be deemed a delinquent youth and subjected to greater punishment for the same conduct that originally gave the youth court authority to designate her a youth in need of supervision.

On December 9, 1981, a deputy county attorney petitioned the Lewis & Clark County Youth Court to declare C.H. a youth in need of supervision for the offense of habitual truancy, a violation of section 41-5-103(13)(c), MCA. C.H. was 14 years old at the time. At the February 24, 1982 hearing, C.H. admitted to having been truant from school. The youth court ordered C.H. to attend all her high school classes, to attend counseling sessions, to attend tutoring sessions with each teacher, to follow certain procedures in case of absences, and to be evaluated by a clinical psychologist. This order also specified:

"... that if C. ... has any unexcused absences or in any way violates the terms and conditions of this Order, she may be brought back to court for further disposition; or in the alternative, the Lewis and Clark County Attorney's office can file a new Petition asking that she be declared a delinquent youth." Consent Order, March 2, 1982.

C.H., her mother, her attorney and the deputy county attorney expressly consented to and signed this order.

Six days later, the deputy county attorney informed the court that C.H. had violated the consent order by failing to attend school on March 3, 1984. The new petition alleged that C.H. was a delinquent youth under the provisions of the Montana Youth Court Act.

At the March 8, 1984 probable cause hearing on the delinquency petition, the school assistant principal testified that C.H. had "not been at school one full day" since the court order. After a full hearing on the merits, the youth court ordered a predispositional evaluation. C.H. was committed to Mountain View School for Girls for a period of 45 days for the purpose of undergoing the evaluation.

After receipt of the evaluation and a supplemental report to the court from a probation officer, a dispositional hearing was held. In accordance with Mountain View's recommendations, the court ordered C.H. placed on formal probation for one year, subject to the following conditions:

"1) That the youth attend school at the Helena Alternative School on a regular basis, with no unexcused absences; and 2) that the conduct of the youth be that of a law-abiding citizen and that said youth shall obey all laws promulgated by lawful authority."

Nothing in the record indicates that C.H. had any truancy or other problems after this final order of December 16, 1982. On the contrary, a report from her probation officer indicates that C.H.'s attendance at the Alternative School has been excellent.


In In re Gault (1967), 387 U.S. 1, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 18 L.Ed.2d 527, the United States Supreme Court set forth the history and theory underlying the juvenile justice system and commented on its constitutional problems as follows:

"... The Juvenile Court movement began in this country at the end of the last century. From the juvenile court statute adopted in Illinois in 1899, the system has spread to every State in the Union, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The constitutionality of Juvenile Court laws has been sustained in over 40 jurisdictions against a variety of attacks.

"The early reformers were appalled by adult procedures and penalties, and by the fact that children could be given long prison sentences and mixed in jails with hardened criminals. They were profoundly convinced that society's duty to the child could not be confined by the concept of justice alone. They believed that society's role was not to ascertain whether the child was 'guilty' or 'innocent,' but 'What is he, how has he become what he is, and what had best be done in his interest and in the interest of the state to save him from a downward career.' The child--essentially good, as they saw it--was to be made 'to feel that he is the object of [the state's] care and solicitude,' not that he was under arrest or on trial. The rules of criminal procedure were therefore altogether inapplicable. The apparent rigidities, technicalities, and harshness which they observed in both substantive and procedural criminal law were therefore to be discarded. The idea of crime and punishment was to be abandoned. The child was to be 'treated' and 'rehabilitated' and the procedures, from apprehension through institutionalization, were to be 'clinical' rather than punitive." 387 U.S. at 14-16, 87 S.Ct. at 1437, 18 L.Ed.2d at 539.

Since juvenile courts were civil in nature, they were not originally held to any of the constitutional safeguards afforded to adults in criminal proceedings. Mudd, The Constitution and Juvenile Delinquents, 32 Mont.L.Rev. 307, 308 (1971). As constitutional case law developed in this area, substantive due process was afforded to juveniles. For example in In re Gault, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a 15 year old was entitled to adequate notice, assistance of counsel and the privilege against self-incrimination during delinquency proceedings.

Today, one of the most hotly debated issues in the field of juvenile justice is the proper scope of juvenile court jurisdiction over noncriminal misbehavior, i.e., conduct that is unlawful for juveniles but not for adults. See United States Department of Justice, Standards for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (1980) at 249. "Children's conduct over which the juvenile court exercises jurisdiction is commonly viewed as falling into two categories: (1) delinquency--conduct of juveniles which would constitute a violation of a criminal statute if committed by an adult, and (2) status offenses--children's behavior which would not be criminal if committed by an adult." National Center for Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Court Jurisdiction over Children's Conduct (1980) at 1. This second category of "status offender" is the focus of national debate generally and a primary issue of this case. "A status offender is commonly defined as one whose acts are proscribed solely because of his age. Runaways and school truants account for the largest number of these youngsters." Quinn & Hutchison, Status Offenders Should Be Removed from the Juvenile Court, 7 Pepperdine L.Rev. 923, 926 (1980).

Montana's Youth Court Act is contained in Title 41, Chapter 5, MCA. Under the Act, a status offender is generally labeled a youth in need of supervision; and a "criminal" offender is generally labeled a delinquent youth. However, the youth court has discretion to regard a child who commits delinquent acts, as a youth in need of supervision.

Section 41-5-103(12), MCA defines a "delinquent youth" as a youth "(a) who has committed an offense which, if committed by an adult, would constitute a criminal offense;

"(b) who, having been placed on probation as a delinquent youth or a youth in need of supervision, violates any condition of his probation."

Section 41-5-103(13), MCA defines a "youth in need of supervision" as a youth:

"... who commits an offense prohibited by law which, if committed by an adult, would not constitute a criminal offense, including but not limited to a youth who:

"(a) violates any Montana municipal or state law regarding use of alcoholic beverages by minors;

"(b) habitually disobeys the reasonable and lawful demands of his parents or guardian or is ungovernable and beyond their control;

"(c) being subject to compulsory school attendance, is habitually truant from school; or

"(d) has committed any of the acts of a delinquent youth but whom the youth court in its discretion chooses to regard as a youth in need of supervision."

Subsections (a)-(c) define status offenses, including truancy. Subsection (d) is the overlap provision, which gives the youth court discretion to treat the more serious misconduct of a delinquent youth, as the misbehavior of a youth in need of supervision.

C.H. admitted to habitual truancy, a violation of section 41-5-103(13)(c), MCA. She was designated a youth in need of supervision and ordered to attend school. By failing to attend school, she violated a condition of the court's order, thereby falling within the definition of delinquent youth contained in section 41-5-103(12)(b), MCA.

The court adjudged her to be a delinquent youth and ordered her to undergo a 45-day evaluation at Mountain View prior to the dispositional hearing. Section 41-5-523(1)(e), MCA permits the court to order such "evaluation that the court considers beneficial to the youth." Subsection 41-5-523(1)(d), MCA permits the court to transfer legal custody of a delinquent youth to the Department of Institutions. That same subsection prohibits transfer of a youth in need of supervision to a state youth correctional facility, such as Mountain View....

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