CWOF Permitted in MA Juvenile Court Despite Prior History

Continuance Without a Finding Permitted in Juvenile Court Notwithstanding Jury’s Prior Verdict of Delinquent, Commonwealth v. Magnus, 461 Mass. 459.

Summary: On February 6, the SJC held that a judge has discretion to continue a juvenile’s case without a finding and place the juvenile on probation, notwithstanding a jury verdict of delinquency.  Defendant, a juvenile, was charged with being a delinquent child for breaking and entering a motor vehicle at night with the intent to commit a felony in violation of G.L. c. 266, § 16.  The trial took place in September, 2010, and the jury returned a verdict of “delinquent.”  On that same day, the judge who presided issued an order, over the Commonwealth’s objection, that the juvenile’s case be continued without a finding.  The issue under consideration by the SJC was whether, notwithstanding the jury verdict, G.L. c. 119, § 58 empowers a Juvenile Court judge to continue a delinquency case without a finding and place the juvenile under supervision of the probation department.  The Court found that it does.

DiscussionThe SJC interpreted G.L. c. 119, § 58 in light of the principle aim and underlying philosophy of the juvenile justice system as primarily rehabilitative.  The Court explained that the language in § 58 authorizes a judge to continue a delinquency case without a finding after conducting a trial where a juvenile has been found delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Court further explained that the statute itself doesn’t define what body – a jury or judge – must find sufficient facts for adjudicating the juvenile delinquent, and thus the silence will be read as encompassing both circumstances.  The Court ultimately held that in light of statutory language, its placement within the broader statutory scheme, and the philosophy underlying our juvenile justice system, G.L. c. 119, § 58 empowers a judge to continue a delinquency case without a finding notwithstanding the jury verdict of “delinquent.”

Implication: The Court stated that interpreting the statute in this way allows judges the flexibility to place a juvenile under continued supervision by the court, while offering the juvenile the benefit of a dismissal after compliance with the terms of the probation, and will allow the “judge’s presumed expertise in weighing social and psychological factors [to] come into play.”  This decision gives a Juvenile Court judge great discretion, and future cases will likely depend upon a case-by-case, fact based inquiry.

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Same-Sex Spouse Awarded Joint Custody in Massachusetts

Same-sex Spouse is Legal Parent and Gets Joint Custody of Child, Della Corte v. Ramirez, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 905 (2012).

Summary: The Appeals Court held that a former same-sex spouse of a child’s mother was the legal parent of the child, and that no substantial material change in the circumstances of the parties warranted a modification of child custody.  The case involved a woman, Della Corte, who gave birth to an artificially conceived child while married to her same-sex spouse, Ramirez.  During their divorce proceedings, the Probate & Family Court decided that the couple should have joint custody.  Della Corte challenged this finding.  The issue here was whether Ramirez was a legal parent and whether Della Corte would be required to share custody of the child following their divorce.  In interpreting G.L. c. 46, §4b, the Court found that Ramirez was a legal parent, and that there were no substantial and material changes in circumstances warranting a modification of custody.

DiscussionDella Corte was artificially inseminated with the sperm of an anonymous donor approximately two months before the two married.  Ramirez was an integral part of the decision to conceive and the insemination process, and the child’s birth certificate identified both Ramirez and Della Corte as the child’s parents.  After the birth, the relationship deteriorated and Della Corte wanted a divorce.  The Court looked at Massachusetts statute G.L. c. 46, §4b, stating that “[a]ny child born to a married woman as a result of artificial insemination with the consent of her husband, shall be considered the legitimate child of the mother and such husband” (emphasis added).  In interpreting the statute, the Court found there is no requirement that a couple be married at conception, and that the word “husband” should be construed in a gender-neutral manner, not excluding same-sex married couples (citing Goodridge v. Department of Pub. Health, 440 Mass. 309, 343 n. 34).  Additionally, there is no need for second-parent adoption in order to confer legal parentage on the non-biological parent if child is born of the marriage.

Practice Pointer: This ruling confirmed that when a same-sex married couple has a child by artificial insemination, the second-parent does not need to go through adoption proceedings in order to have legal parental rights over the child.  More broadly, this decision seems to have the effect of making same-sex marriages and divorces legally indistinguishable from heterosexual marriages and divorces.