How Justices Vote in Juvenile Defendant Cases

This post examines the supreme court’s handling of juvenile cases over the 25 years from September 1, 1992, through August 31, 2017.  By itself, the phrase “juvenile cases” could refer to a variety of actions, including termination-of-parental-rights proceedings and cases in which juveniles were victims, but we will concentrate on cases pertaining to the trial or punishment of juveniles.[1]  These guidelines yield a total of 22 cases, which I have divided into categories that address the following questions: (1) adult court or juvenile court, (2) constitutional violations, (3) sentence credit, and (4) miscellaneous issues.

Table 1 indicates that while the justices were decidedly unsympathetic to defense counsels’ arguments in the first three categories, they were surprisingly receptive to the defendants’ claims in the “miscellaneous” batch of cases.  The latter include rulings on (1) the proper venue for a trial, (2) a court’s authority to dismiss a juvenile delinquency petition and defer prosecution whether or not the juvenile is in custody, (3) a court’s authority to stay the portion of an order requiring a juvenile delinquent to register as a sex offender, (4) a court’s authority to extend a juvenile’s dispositional order temporarily, after the original dispositional order had already expired, and (5) a requirement to record custodial interrogations of juveniles.[2]  The decisions on all five of these issues went against the state.

(click on tables to enlarge them)

If we reassemble our collection of 22 cases and determine how each justice voted, the results (in Table 2) should not astound court watchers.[3]  Liberals (notably Justices Abrahamson, A.W. Bradley, and former-Justice Butler) were much more likely to respond approvingly to defendants’ arguments than were conservatives (Justices Roggensack, Ziegler, and Gableman, to list three currently on the bench).

Although I have excluded termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) cases from Tables 1 and 2, my search for juvenile proceedings turned up several TPR decisions, and findings pertaining to these cases will appear in a subsequent post.


[1] I am also excluding: (1) Madison Metropolitan School District v. Circuit Court (“Does a circuit court have authority to order a school district to provide alternative educational services to a juvenile who has been expelled from school by a lawful and unchallenged expulsion order?”); (2) Calumet County Department of Human Services v. Randall H. (Is “the parent of a disabled child placed in a residential treatment facility pursuant to a circuit court’s CHIPS order … exempt from the court’s child support order if the child’s individualized education program (IEP), mandated by the IDEA, subsequently specifies that the child’s educational program be implemented at the residential treatment facility”?); and (3) Thomas Gritzner v. Michael R. (In this civil suit, the plaintiffs alleged that Roger Bubner, an adult, “was entrusted with the care of Tara [the plaintiffs’ 4-year-old daughter] while she was in his home, that Bubner had custody and control of Michael [10 years old], and that Bubner knew or should have known that Michael might engage in inappropriate sexual acts if left alone with Tara.”).

[2] The table does not include State v. Kywanda F.  Here, the court concluded that the case’s factual record was insufficient to allow the justices to determine whether the defendant suffered prejudice as a result of the lower court’s ruling, and thus the case was remanded to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing.

[3] Justices Ceci, R.G. Bradley, and Kelly did not participate in any of these juvenile cases during the period under consideration.  The figures for Justices Day and Heffernan are derived from only their last few years on the bench and thus should be regarded circumspectly.

About Alan Ball

Alan Ball is a Professor of History at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

SCOWstats offers numerical analysis of the voting by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on diverse issues over the past 91 years.

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