We’ve posted on this case twice before, first on the published court of appeals decision and then on the supreme court’s grant of the petition for review. The question is easily posed: the statute says that a juvenile is subject to automatic adult court jurisdiction if “the court assigned to exercise jurisdiction under [chs. 48 and 948] has waived its jurisdiction over the juvenile for a previous violation” and the previous case is either pending or ended in conviction. Does “the court” in that phrase mean any juvenile court in the state (so that waiver in any county would forever precluded juvenile jurisdiction in every county), or does it mean the specific juvenile court in the county where criminal charges are contemplated (so that each county would have a chance to make the waiver decision in its own courts)?
If you read our posts, the SCOW opinions, or the court of appeals opinions (there was a dissent by Judge Reilly) you’ll find there’s just not much to go on. Scant evidence either way; pretty much a coin flip as to what “the court” means. In other words, it’s ambiguous. But not to the four-justice majority here (Justice Hagedorn, having been on the court of appeals panel that decided the case below, sits out for the supreme court’s review). The dry exercise in statutory construction (¶¶24-29) defies meaningful summary; suffice to say it wrings tremendous meaning from what a disinterested reader might view as minor and arbitrary grammatical choices. The majority also declares that other statutory sections that might illuminate the meaning of the phrase “the court” don’t count because they don’t specifically have to do with conferring jurisdiction. (¶25). Why? We’re not told. The whole thing has the whiff of Calvinball.
The dissent (by Justice Dallet and joined by Justice A.W. Bradley) recognizes the ambiguity and, like Judge Reilly’s dissent below, turns to the purpose of the statute to resolve it. That purpose–providing individualized assessments and the resources to address delinquency–cuts in favor of county-by-county waiver determinations. (¶41).