The changes made to the state’s Appellate Court Procedural Rules make a significant difference in how quickly out-of-home placement cases are reviewed. Such cases are ones in which juveniles typically are sent to a detention center or residential facility.
“Although the number of these types of cases may be relatively small, the rules that the Court adopted make our juvenile justice system stronger,” Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille said. “The rules should also help appellate courts identify specific instances of sentencing abuse by individual judges. These new rules should boost the confidence Pennsylvanians have in the courts that adjudicate juveniles.”
Prompting the changes was a comprehensive report prepared by the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice chaired by Judge John Cleland in response to problems identified in Luzerne County juvenile court. The report identified a procedure to improve the appellate review system because juveniles often complete their detainment in less time than it typically takes to process an appeal from an adjudication of guilt.
The commission recommended that the Supreme Court’s Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee create a special process to review a juvenile court judge’s decision — short of a formal appellate review — after an adjudication of delinquency that removes a child from his or her home. The Supreme Court’s amendment of existing appellate rules and the creation of a new rule provide the mechanism for the expedited review process.
“The rules are designed to provide meaningful review of a judge’s decision to remove a juvenile from his or her home,” said Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer, Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee chair. “With this new procedure, we hope the bright light of appellate review will quickly correct legal and procedural errors, promote uniformity and consistency, and reassure parents that out-of-home placement decisions will be subject to timely review by the Superior Court.”
Over the past two years, the Supreme Court, its various committees and the AOPC have implemented a number of important reforms recommended in the Interbranch Commission’s lengthy report.