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In re A. L.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

March 7, 2019

In the interest of A. L., a person under the age of 17:
v.
A. L., Respondent-Respondent-Petitioner. State of Wisconsin, Petitioner-Appellant,

          Submitted on Briefs: Oral Argument: November 5, 2 018

          Source of Appeal: Circuit county L.C. No. 2012JV389A: Milwaukee Christopher T. Dee, Judge.

         REVIEW OF DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS Reported at 378 Wis.2d 721, 904 N.W.2d 543');">904 N.W.2d 543 PDC No:2017 WI.App. 72

          For the respondent-respondent-petitioner, there were briefs filed by Jorge R. Fragoso, assistant state public defender. There was an oral argument by Jorge R. Fragoso.

          For the petitioner-appellant, there was a brief filed by Luke N. Berg, deputy solicitor general, with whom on the brief was Brad D. Schimel, attorney general, and Misha Tseytlin, solicitor general. There was an oral argument by Luke N. Berg.

          REBECCA FRANK DALLET, J.

         ¶1 The Milwaukee County Circuit Court, T. Christopher Dee presiding, denied the State's motion to recall A.L.'s juvenile delinquency proceedings. We review the court of appeals' decision reversing the circuit court.[1]

         ¶2 A.L. seeks review of two issues: (1) whether a circuit court can resume suspended juvenile delinquency proceedings to reexamine the competency of a juvenile who was initially found not competent to proceed under Wis.Stat. § 938.30(5)(d) (2015-16)[2] and not likely to become competent within the statutory time limits; and (2) whether the circuit court retains competency over juvenile delinquency proceedings after an accompanying juvenile in need of protection or services (JIPS) order has expired.[3]

         ¶3 We conclude that a circuit court can resume suspended juvenile delinquency proceedings to reexamine the competency of a juvenile who was initially found not competent and not likely to become competent within the statutory time frame. We also conclude that a circuit court retains competency over juvenile delinquency proceedings even after an accompanying JIPS order has expired. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

         ¶4 The juvenile delinquency petition at issue pertains to an incident that occurred in November 2012 when A.L. was 15 years old. Milwaukee police officers were dispatched to a residence where they found a man lying on the front porch with a stab wound to his chest. During a search of the residence, the officers recovered a silver metal knife in the kitchen sink. A.L. admitted to an officer that he had stabbed his 25-year-old cousin after observing him violently fighting with A.L.'s 16-year-old brother.

         ¶5 A delinquency petition was filed in November 2012 when A.L. was 15 years old, alleging A.L. committed second-degree reckless homicide while armed with a dangerous weapon. At A.L.'s plea hearing, defense counsel challenged A.L.'s competency to proceed. The circuit court suspended the proceedings and ordered two competency evaluations of A.L. Both psychologists found A.L. not competent and not likely to become competent within the statutory time frame, and the circuit court agreed. Pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 938.30(5) (d), the circuit court suspended the delinquency proceedings against A.L., entered a JIPS order, and placed A.L. in a residential treatment center. A.L.'s JIPS order was later extended for another year and expired in March 2015.

         ¶6 While the JIPS order was pending, the State filed additional charges against A.L.: (1) a June 2014 juvenile delinquency petition alleging criminal damage to property; and (2) a December 2014 complaint alleging battery, criminal damage to property, and disorderly conduct in adult criminal court.[4] In the 2014 delinquency proceedings, A.L. was found not competent and not likely to become competent within the one-year statutory time frame. The circuit court suspended the proceedings and entered another JIPS order which expired in October 2015. However, in the adult criminal proceedings A.L. was found not competent but likely to become competent. A.L. was then sent to Mendota Mental Health Facility in March 2015 for competency remediation. In May 2015, a doctor at Mendota found A.L. competent to proceed. A.L. did not challenge this competency finding and pled guilty to the battery and criminal damage to property charges.

         ¶7 As a result of the competency finding in the adult criminal proceedings, the State moved for a reevaluation of A.L.'s competency in the 2014 delinquency proceedings. After hearing testimony, the circuit court found A.L. competent and resumed proceedings on the June 2014 delinquency petition.

         ¶8 The State then filed a motion to recall for reconsideration of A.L.'s competency in the November 2012 juvenile delinquency case. The circuit court held that under the circumstances, where A.L. was initially found not competent and unlikely to become competent, Wis.Stat. § 938.30(5) did not provide a procedure for reinstating the suspended delinquency proceedings. Therefore, the circuit court denied the State's motion and ruled that the proceedings remained suspended, and "just kind of sit[] in limbo." The State appealed the circuit court's decision.

         ¶9 The court of appeals reversed and remanded the matter, concluding that Wis.Stat. § 938.30(5) (d) allows the circuit court to retain authority over delinquency proceedings where the juvenile remains not competent such that the circuit court may revisit the issue of competency when circumstances warrant reevaluation. See State v. A.L., 2017 WI.App. 72, ¶36, 378 Wis.2d 721, 904 N.W.2d 543. The court of appeals determined that § 938.30(5)(d) was ambiguous and therefore relied upon legislative history to determine its meaning. See id., ¶2.

         ¶10 A.L. seeks review of two issues: (1) whether a circuit court can resume suspended delinquency proceedings to reexamine the competency of a juvenile who was initially found not competent to proceed under Wis.Stat. § 938.30(5)(d) and not likely to become competent within the statutory time limits; and (2) whether the circuit court retains competency over delinquency proceedings after an accompanying JIPS order has expired.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶11 The focus in this case is on the interpretation of Wis.Stat. § 938.30(5), the statute that governs competency within the Juvenile Justice Code. Statutory interpretation is a question of law that this court reviews de novo. Noffke ex rel. Swenson v. Bakke,2009 WI 10, ¶9, 315 Wis.2d 350, 760 N.W.2d 156. The purpose of statutory interpretation is to "determine what the statute means so that it may be given its full, proper, and intended effect." State ex rel. Kalal v. Circuit Court for Dane Cty.,2004 WI 58, ¶44, 271 Wis.2d 633, 681 N.W.2d 110. Statutory language is "given its common, ordinary, and accepted meaning," unless there are technical or specially-defined words or phrases. Id., ΒΆ45. "A statute's purpose or scope may be readily apparent ...


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