State ex rel. Slatton v. Boles

Decision Date02 April 1963
Docket NumberNo. 12204,12204
Citation130 S.E.2d 192,147 W.Va. 674
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia ex rel. Roger SLATTON v. Otto C. BOLES, Warden, West Virginia Penitentiary.

Syllabus by the Court

1. 'Statutes in pari materia must be construed together and the legislative intention, as gathered from the whole of the enactments, must be given effect.' Point 3, Syllabus, State ex rel. Graney v. Sims, 144 W.Va. 72 .

2. The statutes embraced in Chapter 49, Code, 1931, as amended, are in pari materia and, when read together, show a clear legislative intent to protect and reclaim, rather than punish, a juvenile who committed an offense prior to his sixteenth birthday, and, except for a capital offense, to prohibit the trial of such juvenile in any court other than a juvenile court.

3. An adjudication of juvenile delinquency by a juvenile court shall not be deemed a conviction.

4. Subject to constitutional limitations, state and federal, the legislature has the power to create and define crimes.

5. Under the provisions of Chapter 49, Code, 1931, as amended, the legislature has declared that a person under the age of sixteen years, except for a capital offense, is incapable of committing a crime and, in that circumstance, there being no crime involved, the vesting of exclusive jurisdiction in the juvenile court does not deprive the circuit court of original and general jurisdiction of crimes and misdemeanors, as provided in Article VIII, Section 12 of the West Virginia Constitution.

6. Where a person is tried in a court other than a juvenile court for an offense which he committed prior to his sixteenth birthday and is there convicted, such conviction is void for the reason that such court had no jurisdiction over that offense, the jurisdiction thereover resting exclusively in the juvenile court.

7. 'Wherever an act of the Legislature can be so construed and applied as to avoid a conflict with the Constitution, and give it the force of law, such construction will be adopted by the courts.' Point 3, Syllabus, Slack v. Jacob, 8 W.Va. 612.

8. 'One imprisoned in consequence of a sentence which is void may obtain his release from such imprisonment by a habeas corpus proceeding.' Point 3, Syllabus, State ex rel. Firestone v. Adams, Warden, 145 W.Va. 194 .

Arthur Ritz Kingdon, Mullens, for relator.

C. Donald Robertson, Atty. Gen., J. Patrick Bower, Asst. Atty. Gen., Charleston, for respondent.

CAPLAN, Judge.

Roger Slatton, the relator in this proceeding, invoked the original jurisdiction of this Court by filing herein his petition praying for a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum. On December 5, 1962, the writ was issued, returnable January 9, 1963, and counsel was appointed to represent the relator. On the return day the Attorney General, appearing for the respondent, produced the relator and filed a return and a demurrer to the petition. The case thereupon was submitted for decision upon the pleadings heretofore noted and upon the briefs of the parties.

On November 29, 1960, the Department of Public Welfare, proceeding under the provisions of Chapter 49, Article 5 of the Code of 1931, as amended, filed its verified petition in the Juvenile Court of Wyoming County, it being the circuit court of said county, requesting that Roger Slatton be adjudged a delinquent and dealt with as provided by law. The petition upon which the relator herein was sought to be committed stated the following: 'Is incorrigible, ungovernable, or habitually disobedient and beyond the control of his parents, guardian, or other custodian. Larceny of one rifle and four shotguns from Easters Service Station.'

The Judge of the Circuit Court of Wyoming County, acting in his capacity as the juvenile court judge, after a hearing on the aforesaid petition, entered an order finding the defendant (Slatton) guilty of juvenile delinquency. Slatton was thereupon committed to the custody of the West Virginia Board of Control (now Commissioner of Public Institutions), directing that he be assigned to a forestry camp for a period of two years. The court's order further provided 'that if in the opinion of the superintendent of said forestry camp the defendant proves to be an unfit person to remain in said forestry camp, he shall be returned to this court to be further dealt with according to law.'

It appears from the stipulation entered into between counsel for the parties in this proceeding and from the stipulation exhibits attached thereto, that on February 20, 1961, an indictment was returned in the Circuit Court of Wyoming County charging the relator with the felonious crime of breaking and entering and the larceny of five shotguns and other items, all of the value of $613.00. This offense was alleged to have been committed on November 1, 1960, and was the same offense for which the relator was adjudged a juvenile delinquent and assigned to the forestry camp.

On March 18, 1961, the superintendent certified Slatton as an unfit person to remain in the camp and returned him to the Circuit Court of Wyoming County to be dealt with according to law. The record in this case is not entirely clear but it appears that Slatton ran away from the camp, was apprehended and was returned to Wyoming County, where he was arraigned on the aforesaid indictment. It further appears from the record that on March 28, 1961, the relator, appearing in person and by his counsel, entered a plea of guilty to the offense of breaking and entering as charged in the indictment. Thereupon he was sentenced to confinement in the West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville for the indeterminate period of one to ten years.

It was stipulated and agreed by the parties, though their respective counsel, that the relator, Roger Slatton, was born on November 18, 1944. Since the indictment returned against him on February 20, 1961, charged him with the commission of a crime on November 1, 1960, it is conclusive that he had not yet reached his sixteenth birthday when the violation of law occurred.

The relator, now an inmate in the state penitentiary, seeks this relief, claiming that the sentence under which he is serving is null and void. He contends that the Circuit Court of Wyoming County lacked jurisdiction to sentence him since he was under the age of sixteen years at the time of the commission of the offense.

In this proceeding we are confronted with the following question: Does a circuit court have jurisdiction to indict, try, convict and sentence a person for a criminal offense if such person, when the crime was committed, was under the age of sixteen years? It is the position of the relator that, in view of the provisions of our statutes, relating the child welfare, such jurisdiction does not exist. The respondent, on the other hand, asserts, among other things, that such interpretation of Chapter 49 of the Code of 1931, as amended, would render the pertinent child welfare acts unconstitutional as violative of Article VIII, Section 12 of the West Virginia Constitution.

The pertinent language of that constitutional provision is quoted as follows: '* * * They [circuit courts] * * * shall have original and general jurisdiction * * * of all crimes and misdemeanors.' In deciding the basic question stated above we are called upon to determine whether this constitutional provision precludes our legislature from establishing juvenile courts with exclusive jurisdiction over infants under sixteen years of age, who are charged with the commission of a criminal offense.

Here we are concerned with the commission of an offense by a person under the age of sixteen years which, if committed by an adult, would unquestionably be a crime. In the field of law pertaining to the custody and control of juveniles there has developed, and such development continues, a comparatively new concept of jurisprudence. Though this development, as it relates to statutory law, is of fairly recent vintage, the basis therefor is of ancient origin.

From the earliest time infants were regarded as entitled to special protection from the State. See 27 Am.Jur. 822, Infants, Section 101. In early English law, under the doctrine of parens patriae, the King was considered the parent or protector of all orphaned or dependent children within the realm. Since, in our country, the prerogatives of the crown devolved on the people of the states, the State, as a sovereign, now stands in the situation of parens patriae. Jensen v. Sevy, 103 Utah 220, 134 P.2d 1081; Helton v. Crawley, 241 Iowa 296, 41 N.W.2d 60. This doctrine expresses the inherent power and authority of the State to provide protection of the person and property of a person non sui juris. In the execution of such doctrine the legislature is possessed of the inherent power to formulate such rules and regulations as may be necessary to provide protection for persons of immature years. See 67 C.J.S. p. 624; People v. Pierson, 176 N.Y. 201, 68 N.E. 243, 63 L.R.A. 187.

In recognition of these modern sociological precepts many legislatures in the various states have enacted statutes designed to set minors apart and afford to them privileges and immunities not possessed by people as a whole. One result of this trend was the creation of the juvenile court. The need therefor was recognized and, in 1899, in Cook County, Illinois, the first juvenile court was established. With comparative rapidity this action was followed in other states, and it can now be said that the juvenile court exists in every state of the Union, either as a separate court or as an arm of a legally established tribunal. These enactments, as a matter of fact, do not create a new method of treatment of juveniles, but, in essence, constitute the embracement of the ancient doctrine of parens patriae. 'The Juvenile Court Act is a codification of the ancient equitable jurisdiction over infants, under doctrine of parens patriae,...

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