Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Juvenile Law
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A minor convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) argued that the statute that excluded misdemeanor traffic violations from juvenile court jurisdiction violated her right to equal protection under the Alaska Constitution. She argued that the mandatory jail sentence for first DUI offenders was unfairly different than the dispositions for other misdemeanors in the juvenile code. And she argued that it was unfair for felony DUI offenses to be charged in juvenile court when misdemeanor offenses were not. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that because driving was an adult activity, the legislature could reasonably decide to treat misdemeanor traffic violations consistently to promote public safety while also reasonably choosing to protect juvenile offenders from the harsh collateral consequences of a felony conviction. The Court, therefore, concluded the statute was constitutional and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Watson v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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An Alaska Native teenage minor affiliated with the Native Village of Kotzebue (Tribe) was taken into custody by the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and placed at a residential treatment facility in Utah. She requested a placement review hearing after being injured by a facility staff member. At the time of the hearing, the minor’s mother wanted to regain custody. At the hearing the superior court had to make removal findings under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), as well as findings authorizing continued placement in a residential treatment facility under Alaska law. At the hearing, the minor’s Utah therapist testified as a mental health professional. The minor, as well as her parents and the Tribe, objected to the witness being qualified as an ICWA expert, but the superior court allowed it. The minor argued the superior court erred in determining that the witness was qualified as an expert for the purposes of ICWA. Because the superior court correctly determined that knowledge of the Indian child’s tribe was unnecessary in this situation when it relied on the expert’s testimony for its ICWA findings, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of April S." on Justia Law

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Before the Alaska Supreme Court in this case was a constitutional claim arising from the application of a juvenile jurisdiction waiver statute. A minor subject to the statutory provision did not testify at his waiver hearing and did not overcome the presumption enumerated in the statute; the superior court granted the State’s waiver petition. The minor appealed, contending the statutory rebuttable presumption and shifted burden of proof violated his constitutional right against self-incrimination and his constitutional due process rights. The Supreme Court explained that fundamental fairness required adopting an exclusionary rule when a minor bears the burden of rebutting the statutory presumption of being unamenable to treatment in the juvenile justice system: the minor’s testimonial evidence at the waiver hearing cannot be used as substantive evidence over the minor’s objection at any subsequent juvenile adjudication or adult criminal proceedings. View "C.D., a Minor v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law

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A juvenile from a small village could not afford to travel to the site of his juvenile delinquency proceeding. His attorney with the Public Defender Agency (the Agency) filed a motion asking the superior court to require the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to pay the travel expenses for both the juvenile and one of his parents. The superior court denied the motion and required the Agency to pay the expenses. The court of appeals upheld the superior court’s decision, reasoning that the Agency’s authorizing statute could plausibly be interpreted to cover client travel expenses and that this reading was supported by administrative guidance in the form of two Attorney General opinions and a regulation governing reimbursements by the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA). The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Agency’s petition for hearing, asking the Agency and DJJ to address two questions: (1) whether the Agency has a statutory obligation to pay its clients’ travel expenses; and (2) whether DJJ has a statutory obligation to pay those expenses. The Supreme Court concluded neither entity’s authorizing statutes required the payment and therefore reversed the court of appeals. The Court did not address the question of how these necessary expenses were to be funded; the Court surmised that was an issue for the executive and legislative branches. View "Alaska Public Defender Agency v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Parents "Madeline P." and "Rex P." challenged a school district's actions regarding their child's educational program under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A hearing officer found an IDEA violation but awarded less compensatory education services for the child than the parents requested. On appeal, the superior court affirmed the IDEA violation finding and the compensatory education award. The parents appealed, arguing that more compensatory education services should have been awarded; the school district cross-appealed, arguing that no compensatory education services should have been awarded. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's findings regarding the school district's violation of the IDEA's procedural and substantive requirements and the compensatory education award. View "Madeline P. v. Anchorage School District" on Justia Law

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Parents requested that the Anchorage School District evaluate their child for eligibility for special education services. While awaiting the results of the eligibility assessment, the parents arranged for private tutoring. The school district did not assess the child’s eligibility within the statutorily-required time, and the parents requested a due process hearing. They also arranged for their child to be privately evaluated to determine whether he was eligible for special education services. The school district subsequently completed its evaluation and determined the child to be ineligible for services. At the due process hearing, the parents alleged that the school district committed procedural violations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including impermissibly delaying the evaluation. They sought reimbursement for the cost of their child’s private evaluation and tutoring. An independent hearing officer presided over the due process hearing and ultimately agreed with the district that the child was ineligible for services. The hearing officer ordered the school district to pay the cost of the private eligibility assessment and to partially pay the cost of the tutoring. The superior court upheld the award of the private eligibility assessment, but reversed the award of the private tutoring cost. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the school district argued that the parents should not be reimbursed for the evaluation or the tutoring; the parents argued they are entitled to full reimbursement for both expenses. The central question the Court addressed was: where a child is ultimately determined to be ineligible for special education services, does the IDEA provide relief for procedural violations that occur during the process of evaluating the child’s eligibility for services? The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, upholding the independent hearing officer’s award of the private assessment cost, but reversing the hearing officer’s award of the private tutoring expenses. View "J.P. v. Anchorage Sch. Dist." on Justia Law