In re S.F.

Citation269 A.3d 324,477 Md. 296
Decision Date03 February 2022
Docket Number10, Sept. Term, 2021
Parties IN RE: S.F.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by Brian M. Saccenti, Asst. Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Petitioner

Argued by Carrie J. Williams, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Respondent

Amici Curiae on Behalf of Disability Rights Maryland, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Mental Health Association of Maryland, Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities at Kennedy Krieger Institute, and National Disability Rights Network: Megan Berger, Esquire, Megan Collins, Esquire, Disability Rights Maryland, 1500 Union Avenue, Suite 2000, Baltimore, MD 21211, Selene Almazan-Altobelli, Esquire, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, PO Box 6767, Towson, MD 21285

Amici Curiae on Behalf of the National Center for Youth Law, the Public Justice Center, et al.: Ellen E. Dew, Esquire, Meagan M. Pace, Esquire, DLA Piper LLP (US), 6225 Smith Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209-3600

Argued before: Getty, C.J., McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Booth, Biran, Gould, JJ.

Hotten, J. S.F.1 was charged with second-degree assault and misdemeanor theft in the Circuit Court for Frederick County, sitting as a juvenile court ("the juvenile court"). S.F. was twelve years old at the time. Each charge was alleged in a separate Delinquency Petition,2 filed approximately five months apart, and the cases proceeded separately. S.F. entered an Alford plea3 for each charge. The juvenile magistrate in each case recommended probation. An identical condition of probation for each case was for S.F. to attend school regularly without suspensions.

Counsel for S.F. excepted to the no-suspension condition of probation as impermissibly vague in both cases. A hearing for both exceptions occurred on June 5, 2019. The juvenile court denied the exceptions and ordered S.F. to "[a]ttend school regularly without any ... suspensions. ..." S.F. noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed.

S.F. filed a petition for writ of certiorari on March 17, 2021. By this point, S.F. had successfully completed probation and the juvenile court closed the cases. S.F. acknowledged that the appeal was "moot as to him[, b]ut the issue [was] not moot to the many children who may be subject to no-suspension conditions of probation as a result of the Court of Special Appeals’ reported opinion."

We granted certiorari on May 11, 2021 to address the following question: "Is it improper for a juvenile court to make a school's discretionary decision to suspend a child a violation of the child's probation?"

We answer the question in the negative and shall affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.


The Underlying Incidents

On or about October 8, 2018 during regular school hours, S.F., followed by another student enrolled at Monocacy Middle School in Frederick, Maryland, ran into a classroom and began to punch another student, J.C., who fell into a metal desk, striking his head. S.F. claimed that he was retaliating for an earlier provocation from J.C. Thereafter, S.F. had to be pulled from J.C. during a second physical altercation that occurred in the hallway. On November 19, 2018, the State filed a Delinquency Petition charging S.F. with second-degree assault in violation of Md. Code Ann., Criminal Law ("Crim. Law") § 3-203.5

On December 9, 2018, Officer Steven Brown with the Frederick City Police Department responded to a burglary at 150 Stonegate Drive in Frederick City, Maryland. The sliding door of a home was found open and several items, including a pair of Nike Air Jordan's with blue soles and a red Tommy Hilfiger jacket with blue lining were missing. On January 8, 2019, Officer Brown returned to 150 Stonegate Drive, where the homeowner advised Officer Brown that S.F. was seen wearing a pair of Nike Air Jordan's with blue soles and a red Tommy Hilfiger jacket at a nearby McDonald's restaurant. These items belonged to the homeowner's son, who was "able to provide pictures from Snapchat showing [S.F.] was wearing the jacket." The State explained that "if called to testify, the witnesses would identify [S.F.] as the party responsible[ ]" for the theft of the personal property. On April 3, 2019, the State filed a Delinquency Petition that charged S.F. with theft of at least $100 but less than $1,500 pursuant to Crim. Law § 7-104.6

Circuit Court Proceedings

S.F. entered an Alford plea to the count of second-degree assault on February 12, 2019 before the juvenile court. The juvenile magistrate delayed the date of disposition so the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services ("DJS")7 could complete a pre-disposition investigation. S.F. was also placed on pre-disposition supervision by DJS.

Amy S. Gass, the assigned Case Management Specialist for DJS, submitted a Social History Investigation & Recommendation to the juvenile court on March 29, 2019. The report documented S.F.’s medical health, behavioral history, school disciplinary record, and criminal offenses. Ms. Gass noted that S.F. "has a long history of behavioral incidents in school." While enrolled at Monocacy Middle School from September 2018 to November 2018, S.F. was cited for twenty-two distinct disciplinary infractions ranging from disruption and disrespect to fighting and assault, the latter of which resulted in a short-term suspension. S.F. transferred to Heather Ridge Middle School in Frederick for the Spring 2019 semester and was cited for sixteen distinct disciplinary infractions between January and February 2019. In the summary and recommendations section of the report, Ms. Gass concluded that S.F. "has a history of problematic behavior in school and in the home. ... Given the rapid accumulation of charges, [DJS] does recommend a period of supervised probation[.] ..." (Emphasis removed).

On April 2, 2019, during the disposition hearing, a juvenile magistrate recommended that S.F. be placed on probation subject to several conditions. In addition to the standard conditions of supervision, S.F. was required to "report to [his] probation officer as directed, appear in court when notified, permit [his] probation officer to come to [his] home, or if [he was] arrested, attend school regularly without any unexcused absences, suspensions or tardies ... remain drug and alcohol free ... and [s]ubmit to a drug and alcohol assessment. ..." (Emphasis added). During the hearing, counsel for S.F. objected to the inclusion of the no-suspension condition of probation. The juvenile magistrate rejected the argument that the condition was vague:

[S ]uspensions go to behavior related issues like not fighting in school, not showing up high at school. And these are all affirmative [ ] behaviors on the part of the respondent. And if the respondent violates his probation as a result of a suspension, [ ] it [would] be at the time of the [violation of probation] hearing that [the suspension] is litigated[.] ...

(Emphasis added).

Following the hearing, counsel for S.F. filed an exception, pursuant to Maryland Rule 11-111(c) (2021),8 to the condition of " [a]ttend school regularly without any unexcused absences, suspensions or tardiness’, specifically the part regarding suspensions." (Emphasis omitted). Counsel for S.F. excepted to the condition because it could be violated without any willful behavior by S.F. According to counsel, "[S.F.] seeks to remove only the possibility of being found in violation in a way in which he has no control, [i.e. ], being suspended from school." The State filed a response requesting the juvenile court to deny the exception because "whether or not a suspension was due to the Respondent's willful behavior is a factual determination to be made by the trial court[, and] it is not cause to strike a valid probation condition."

In a separate proceeding, on May 16, 2019, S.F. entered an Alford plea to the charge of theft in violation of Crim. Law § 7-104. S.F. agreed to waive the five-day waiting period before disposition, and the juvenile magistrate recommended S.F. be placed on concurrent probation for the counts of assault and theft, supervised by DJS. Over objection from counsel for S.F., one of the conditions for probation again required that S.F. attend school regularly without suspensions. S.F. filed another exception to the no-suspension condition of probation pursuant to Md. Rule 11-111(c). S.F. requested "in the interest[ ] of judicial economy[ ]" that the exceptions hearing concurrently address the identical no-suspension condition of probation for both cases.

On June 5, 2019, the juvenile court considered argument on the exception to the condition of probation for both cases. The juvenile court denied the exception, explaining that:

[H]onestly, I don't think that saying no suspensions -- I just can't go along with the argument that it's vague or indefinite or uncertain. I do think that - - I can see your argument by saying ["]live a correct life,["] what does that mean? I mean, that's vague. But I don't think that this term of probation or condition of probation is vague in any way. So I'm going to deny the exceptions and affirm the Magistrate's decision in putting that in there.

The juvenile court disagreed with the argument that the no-suspension condition of probation would subject S.F. to arbitrary punishment:

I would hope that most schools, if not all schools would actually give an explanation as to the suspension and give the child an opportunity to contest the suspension. But even assuming that ... there's no explanation, if a child comes before me for a violation of probation hearing, I would want to know the basis for the suspension. So I don't think that you'd have to fear that.

Prior to the June 5, 2019 hearing, S.F. and his mother moved to Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. The relocation to another jurisdiction did not affect...

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  • Lee v. State, 1291-2022
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 28, 2023
    ...unresolved issues that are capable of repetition, yet evading review and that involve matters of important public concern. See In re S.F., 477 Md. 296, 318-19. Accordingly, I would exercise discretion to undertake appellate review of the merits. II. Merits The Majority rejects Mr. Lee's ass......

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