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Juvenile Contempt Cases

Children's Representation ProjectCourts are holding children who have committed no crimes in contempt and holding them in detention.  Although the law allows this under certain circumstances, the court is limited in this power.  These cases are a summary of the case law and illustrates how limited this power is.

In The matter of the Interest of Estevan Silva Jr. Docket Number 81573-9 filed 5/7/09

Held that A.K. applies to ARY cases. The court went further than it did in A.K. and clarified that the juvenile court is required to actually try all statutory contempt sanctions and specifically find them ineffective before it can exercise its inherent contempt powers to sanction youth. Also said that remedial sanctions are favored and only under the most egregious circumstances should the juvenile court exercise its contempt power to incarcerate a status offender in a secure facility. Finally, on the rare occasion when a court does invoke its inherent authority to impose a punitive sanction, it must afford the youth full criminal due process protections as set forth in RCW 7.21.040.”

In Bellevue Sch. Dist. v. E.S., (Wn. App. Div. I Jan. 12, 2009), the court vacated a finding of truancy because the child did not have counsel at the initial hearing when the finding of truancy was made. In light of this case, it is no longer sufficient for counsel to be appointed at the point of the contempt proceeding; rather, counsel must be appointed before the initial hearing.

In The matter of the Dependency of A.K. 162 Wn. 2d 632 (2007)

Holding: A juvenile court commissioner possesses the inherent power to impose punitive or remedial sanctions for contempt of court, whether the contempt occurs in or outside of the courtroom. However, before exercising that power, the court must specifically find all statutory contempt remedies inadequate. criminal due process protections must be afforded in a punitive contempt proceeding including

1.      notice of the charges

2.      reasonable opportunity to respond

3.      presumption of innocence

4.      right to have guilt proved beyond a reasonable doubt

5.      right to refuse to testify

6.      right to call witnesses and to cross examine

7.      assistance of counsel

8.      Right to trial before an unbiased judge.

State v. Norlund 31 Wn. App. 725 Division I  (1982)

Holding: Only under the most egregious circumstances should the juvenile court exercise its contempt power to incarcerate a status offender in a secure facility. If such action is necessary, the record should demonstrate that all less restrictive alternatives have failed.

State v. A.L.H. 116 Wn. App. 158 Division II (2003)

Holding: A juvenile may be charged with criminal contempt, but he or she must be afforded all of the due process safeguards extended to any criminal defendant. Moreover, the state must initiate any criminal contempt proceedings by filing a criminal information. But when a juvenile subject to an ARY order violates a condition of that order, the state is expressly limited by statute to seek remedial sanctions under RCW 7.21.030(2).

In the Matter of the Interest of J.L. 140 Wn. App. 438 Division II (2007)

Court imposed a suspended sentence for contempt in a truancy case. Division II held Juvenile court violated the juvenile’s right to due process by punishing her without providing her an opportunity to purge the contempt and avoid incarceration.

In the Matter of the Interest of M.B. 101 Wn. App. 425 Division I (2000)

Holding: the powers conferred by the juvenile contempt statutes can be constitutionally exercised so long as courts ensure due process safeguards are in place. The statutes are therefore the first source of the court’s contempt powers, and the juvenile court may not exercise inherent contempt powers unless the statutory powers are clearly inadequate.  Also holds that the rules of evidence apply, and witnesses must be sworn.

In the Matter of the Interest of Rebecca K.  101 Wn. App 309 Division III (2000)

Holding: Judge can’t impose determinate sentence for ARY


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