CHARLESTON -- The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia approved the state's first Rules of Juvenile Procedure after several years' work.
Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis said the Court earlier adopted the Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings and the rules have been an enormous help in improving the quality and timeliness of results in those cases.
She said the Court Improvement Board's Youth Services Committee, which is led by attorney Jane Moran, thought a similar set of rules for delinquency/status offense cases would bring about similar benefits, which is the main purpose for the comprehensive set of rules.
"The rules are a synthesis of the state's juvenile statutes and case law, including recognized constitutional principles," Davis said. "With added necessary procedural steps, they are a comprehensive roadmap. The rules don't try to make substantive law."
Davis said the most significant change in the rules is its focus.
"The most significant change is the focus on the many children who, unfortunately, are in the juvenile system a long time and need to be better prepared for independence when they 'age out' of the system," Davis said.
Twenty-eighth Judicial Circuit Judge Gary Johnson said the rules were proposed by the West Virginia Court Improvement Program Oversight Board and "are intended to provide uniform court procedures to govern juvenile delinquency and status offense cases."
Johnson, who is chairman of the Court Improvement Program Oversight Board, said the rules are designed to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of juveniles, promote access to rehabilitative opportunities and preserve public safety.
The Youth Services Committee of that Board has spent much of the last five years researching, drafting and revising a document that has now become the state's first Rules of Juvenile Procedure.
Moran said they have never previously had a set of rules to follow.
"The procedure was pieced together from the directives in the juvenile statutes," Moran said. "Those of us who worked on the rules believe this practice resulted in a lack of responsiveness to the unique needs and diverse nature of juvenile offenders. There were insufficient procedural protections to prevent unnecessary detention and, where detention was necessary, to limit it to the minimum required for the safety of the juvenile and protection of the public."
Moran said there was no incident that precipitated the Board's decision to write Juvenile Court Rules.
The Court Improvement Board's main focus has been on improving the way the court system handles abuse and neglect cases and its central purpose is to improve court-related practices affecting children and youth placed out of their homes in foster care, which includes many in the juvenile court system.
Moran said many children who are the victim of abuse and neglect later end up in juvenile court, so it was a natural step for them to try to address the needs of these children.
"The Committee did not believe that the constitutional protections afforded adults in the criminal courts were being consistently and conscientiously provided in the juvenile venues, whereas juveniles are assured, in some incidences, more constitutional protections than adults charged with crimes," Moran said.
Moran said they didn't believe there were enough protections for children who were charged with delinquency, in terms of setting up some structure for their future so they did not go "through a revolving door."
"We are trying to expand the rules into something for their future, to help them stay out of trouble, more than the rules have done at this point," she said.
John Hedges, a Morgantown attorney, said Morgan should be credited for recognizing the importance of addressing the problem when she formed the committee several years ago.
"Status offenders 'age out' of the system when they turn eighteen," Hedges said. "Juvenile delinquent offenders can remain under court jurisdiction until they are 21, in some circumstances. The kids that have been in placement for extended periods typically have very little in terms of supportive family relationships."
The rules that address this issue specifically are Rules 45, 46 and 51. Other rules that are designed to improve the system for older juveniles are Rules 35, 26, 37, 40 and 43.
Hedges said Congress has now recognized that more attention is needed on preparing juveniles for adulthood while they are still in the state's care.
"The federal Fostering Connections to Success Act that passed in 2008 requires states to address education stability in a juvenile's case plan and assist a juvenile aging out of foster care to develop a transition plan," Hedges said. "These issues and other measures designed to help these older youth are covered in the new West Virginia Juvenile Rules and should also benefit the state by opening new avenues for additional Title IV-E federal funding."
Hedges said those funds can be used to pay for certain out-of-home placements, if federal procedural requirements are followed. The requirements were incorporated into the new West Virginia Juvenile Rules.
The Court Improvement Program Board was created as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 and designated federal funding beginning in fiscal year 1995 for grants to state court systems to conduct assessments of their foster care laws and judicial processes and to develop and implement a plan for system improvement.
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia initiated the Court Improvement Program in January 1995 and formed the Board as the advisory group and task force to implement the program the Supreme Court and the Board have continued to obtain federal grant funding and actively participate in Court Improvement Programs every year.
Moran's Youth Services Committee drafted the new Rules of Juvenile Procedure and gave them to the Board to review and approve. The Board then presented them to the Supreme Court for its approval.
The members of Moran's Youth Services Committee are: Hedges; Judge Donald H. Cookman, 22nd Judicial Circuit; Denny Dodson, deputy director of the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services; Sue Hage, program manager for regulatory management for the Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Children & Families; Will Jones, assistant attorney general for the Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Children & Families; Mike Lacy, director of probation services for the Supreme Court of Appeals Administrative Office; Logan attorney Robert Noone; Sandra Prather, youth services policy specialist at the Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Children & Families; Jack Rogers, executive director of the West Virginia Public Defender Services; Angela Saunders, director of court services for the Supreme Court of Appeals Administrative Office; Mary Ann Scali, deputy director of the National Juvenile Defender Center; Robin Walker Sterling, special counsel at the National Juvenile Defender Center; John Sullivan, a defense attorney in the 13th Judicial Circuit Public Defender's Office; Tom Truman, the chief deputy prosecutor in Raleigh County; and Robert Wilkinson, the chief defense attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Public Defender's Office.
"More or less, the rules go in chronological order like a typical juvenile case would progress through the court system," Hedges said.
The rules will become effective July 1.
A copy of the rules has been posted on the Supreme Court website at http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca/Rules/Juvenile_Procedure_Rules.pdf.