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In re S.B.A.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

October 17, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF: S.B.A.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Charles County 16AD-JU00102 Honorable Nancy L. Schneider

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, Presiding Judge.

S.B.A. ("Appellant") appeals the judgment of the juvenile division of the Circuit Court of St. Charles County ("the trial court") finding he had committed two delinquent acts that would have constituted two counts of third-degree assault in violation of section 565.070.1(1) RSMo 2000[1] if they were committed by an adult. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In this case, the Juvenile Officer's[2] allegations leading to the findings of delinquency set out above were based on accomplice liability. Specifically, the Juvenile Officer's first amended petition alleged that on or about January 13, 2016, (1) Appellant, "acting in concert with two other juveniles, recklessly caused physical injury to K.M. by striking him with a closed fist, causing K.M. to sustain an injury to his nose, " and (2) Appellant, "acting in concert with two other juveniles, recklessly caused physical injury to A.H. by striking him in the face" (collectively "the two allegations in the Juvenile Officer's petition").

         An adjudication hearing took place with respect to the two allegations in the Juvenile Officer's petition on July 5, 2016.[3] At the hearing, Appellant made oral motions for judgment of acquittal at the close of the Juvenile Officer's evidence and at the close of all of the evidence, which the trial court denied. On July 5, the trial court entered an order and judgment of jurisdiction, which found that based upon the evidence presented at the adjudication hearing, the two allegations in the Juvenile Officer's petition were true beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, the trial court's decision also found Appellant had committed two delinquent acts that would have constituted two counts of third-degree assault in violation of section 565.070.1(1) if they were committed by an adult; the trial court assumed jurisdiction over Appellant; and the trial court placed Appellant in the continued custody of his mother pending a dispositional hearing.

         The trial court held the dispositional hearing on July 18, and the trial court entered an order and judgment of disposition regarding delinquency, finding continued jurisdiction of Appellant and placing him in the continued custody of his mother subject to court supervision. The rules of court supervision were attached to the trial court's decision and were set out in an agreement signed by Appellant, his mother, and a representative of the Juvenile Officer.

         On July 21, Appellant filed notice of appeal with this Court. Subsequently, on April 3, 2017, the trial court entered an order terminating its jurisdiction over Appellant, finding he had successfully completed all aspects of court supervision and was no longer in need of the care and protection of the court. The submission of this appeal followed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Appellant raises two points on appeal, both of which assert there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court's findings that he committed delinquent acts of third-degree assault. In response, the Juvenile Officer filed a motion to dismiss Appellant's appeal on the grounds it is moot; that motion has been taken with the case. Because the issue of whether an appeal is moot is a threshold question of appellate review, we will consider the Juvenile Officer's motion to dismiss before examining the merits of Appellant's claims on appeal. See Broyles v. Department of Community Health & Environment of St. Charles County, 456 S.W.3d 517, 520 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015) ("[a] threshold question in any appellate review of a controversy is the mootness of the controversy").

         A. Whether Appellant's Appeal is Moot

         An appeal of a trial court's judgment is considered to be moot if the judgment rendered has no practical effect on an existing controversy, i.e., an existing controversy is not susceptible to some relief. Id. Accordingly, "[w]hen something occurs that makes a decision on appeal unnecessary or makes it impossible for the appellate court to grant effective relief, the appeal is moot and generally should be dismissed." Id. Nevertheless, an appellate court may exercise its discretion to decide an otherwise moot appeal under three circumstances, (1) where the case becomes moot after it is argued and submitted; (2) where the issue raised in the case is one of general public interest and importance, is likely to recur, and will otherwise evade appellate review; or (3) "if the decision could have significant collateral consequences for one or more of the parties."[4], [5] M.T. v. Juvenile Officer, 431 S.W.3d 539, 542-43 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014); see In re A.G.R, 359 S.W.3d 103, 108 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011) (an appellate court has discretion to decide an otherwise moot appeal when one of the exceptions to the mootness doctrine applies).

         In the Juvenile Officer's motion to dismiss, he argues Appellant's appeal should be dismissed as moot because the trial court's April 3, 2017 order terminated its jurisdiction over S.B.A, and therefore, there is no longer an existing controversy susceptible to some relief. The Juvenile Officer further contends this Court does not have discretion to decide Appellant's appeal because none of the three exceptions to the mootness doctrine apply to this case.

         In his suggestions in opposition to the Juvenile Officer's motion to dismiss, Appellant asserts that, inter alia, the third exception to the mootness doctrine applies to this case. Specifically, Appellant argues the trial court's judgment could have significant collateral consequences for Appellant because there is a movement to make more juvenile records public. In support of his argument, Appellant cites to In Interest of N.RW., 482 S.W.3d 473 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016) and T.S.G. v. Juvenile Officer, 322 S.W.3d 145 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010). In N.RW. and T.S.G., like in the instant case, the appellate court considered whether a juvenile's appeal of an adjudication was moot under circumstances where the trial court no longer had jurisdiction over the juvenile as of the time of the appeal. See 482 S.W.3d at 475-76; 322 S.W.3d at 147-48; see also State v. Thomas, 70 S.W.3d 496, 504-05 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002) and section 211.041 RSMo Supp. 2009 and section 219.021.1 RSMo Supp. 2016 (indicating the trial court in N.R W. no longer had jurisdiction over the juvenile because he was over eighteen years old and had been previously committed to the division of youth services).

         In N.R.W., the juvenile was adjudicated delinquent for an offense that would have been considered a felony if it was committed by an adult. 482 S.W.3d at 475. In considering whether to decide the juvenile's appeal on the merits or dismiss it as moot, our Court found section 211.321.2(2) provides that the records of the juvenile's dispositional hearing on a "felony offense" are public information to the same extent as records in criminal proceedings, and such evidence could be introduced during the sentencing phase if the juvenile were later tried for an offense as an adult. See N.R.W., 482 S.W.3d at 475, 475 n. 1 (citing, inter alia, section 211.321.2(2) and State v. Sapien, 337 S.W.3d 72, 77-78 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011)); see also 211.321.2(2) RSMo Supp. 2005. Accordingly, this Court held the adjudication could have significant collateral consequences for the juvenile into his adult life, and therefore, the third exception to the mootness doctrine applied. N.R.W., 482 S.W.3d at 475. Further, we did not dismiss the juvenile's appeal but instead considered the merits of the juvenile's claims. Id. at 475-79.

         In T.S.G., the juvenile was adjudicated delinquent for a "status offense" of behavior injurious to the juvenile's welfare[6] after the court amended the juvenile's officer petition at the close of the evidence. 322 S.W.3d at 147-48. In determining whether to decide the juvenile's appeal on the merits or dismiss it as moot, the Western District considered the juvenile's arguments that the third exception to the mootness doctrine applied to her status offense. Id. at 148. The juvenile argued the exception applied because the original offense she was charged with was sexual in nature, and therefore, it was possible the juvenile could later be subject to sex offender registration due to "the rapidly changing statutes in Missouri dealing with this area of law[.]" Id. The juvenile also argued the third exception to the mootness doctrine applied because of the existence of "the movement to make more juvenile records public[.]" Id. In addition, the T.S.G. Court also considered the juvenile officer's concession on appeal that the adjudication could have significant collateral consequences for the juvenile in the future. Id. Under those circumstances, the Western District implicitly found the third exception to the mootness doctrine applied, and the Court did not dismiss the juvenile's appeal but instead considered the merits of the juvenile's claims. Id. at 147-50.

         We acknowledge the instant case is distinguishable from N.R W. and T.S.G. because Appellant was adjudicated delinquent for offenses that would be considered misdemeanors if they were committed by an adult[7] instead of the "felony offense" at issue in N.R. W. or the "status offense" and original charge that was sexual in nature at issue in T.S.G. See 482 S.W.3d at 475; 322 S.W.3d at 147-48. In addition, unlike in T.S.G, there is no concession by the Juvenile Officer in this case that Appellant's adjudication could have significant collateral consequences for him in the future. See 322 S.W.3d at 148. Nevertheless, we find N.R W. and T.S.G. are instructive to our ultimate determination that the third exception to the mootness doctrine applies to this case.

         First, we agree with Appellant's contention that, as the juvenile argued in T.S.G., there is a movement to make more juvenile records public. See 322 S.W.3d at 148; see generally State v. Prince, No. ED 102938, 2017 WL 2644431 at *1, 8 (Mo. App. E.D. June 20, 2017) (the State argued on appeal that the trial court did not err in admitting records of the defendant's juvenile adjudication at trial because the records fell within the scope of a Missouri constitutional provision allowing for the admission of some evidence of prior criminal acts); see also State ex rel. Hawley v. Heagney, 523 S.W.3d 447, 450 (Mo. banc 2017) ("in deciding whether a case is moot, an appellate court is allowed to consider matters outside the record") (quotations omitted). Furthermore, it is foreseeable that the movement to make more juvenile records public could result in, (1) records of a juvenile's dispositional hearing on an offense other than one categorized as a "felony" to be considered public information to the same extent as records in criminal proceedings; (2) such evidence to possibly be introduced during the sentencing phase if the juvenile were later tried for an offense as an adult; and (3) an individual having other lifelong consequences and stigma related to his juvenile adjudication. See id.; see also N.R.W., 482 S.W.3d at 475; section 211.321.2(2).

         Under these circumstances, and similar to our Court's holding in N.R.W., we find Appellant's adjudication could have significant collateral consequences for Appellant into his adult life, and therefore, the third exception to the mootness doctrine applies. See 482 S.W.3d at 475; see also T.S.G., 322 S.W.3d at 148. To hold otherwise would possibly imply that the merits of a juvenile adjudication could not be reviewed on appeal simply because, over time, a juvenile has successfully completed all aspects of supervision ordered by the court or the individual has simply reached an age where the court no longer has jurisdiction over him.[8] It is this Court's view that such a result would be unacceptable and minimize the value of an individual's pursuit of justice and/or vindication in a court proceeding finding he, as a juvenile, committed an act that would have constituted the violation of a criminal statute if it was committed by an adult. Based on the foregoing, the Juvenile Officer's motion to dismiss is denied, and we exercise our Court's discretion to consider the merits of Appellant's claims on appeal.[9] See N.R.W., 482 S.W.3d at 475-79; T.S.G., 322 S.W.3d at 147-50.

         B. The Merits of Appellant's Claims on Appeal

         Appellant raises two points on appeal. Appellant's first point alleges there was insufficient evidence he committed the delinquent act of third-degree assault against K.M. under a theory of accomplice liability, while Appellant's second point on appeal contends there was insufficient evidence he committed ...


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