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Decision to waive juvenile into adult court valid despite court’s misunderstanding about juvenile court dispositions

State v. M.N., Jr., 2022AP855, District 1, 11/1/22 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The circuit court decided to waive M.N. (“Max”) into adult court based in part on the belief that any juvenile court supervision and services would end when M.N. turned 18 in 6 months. (¶8). But as the state concedes, juvenile court dispositions can extend beyond the juvenile’s 18th birthday. (¶16). The court of appeals holds that the circuit court’s erroneous belief was harmless.

Section 938.18(5) lists five relevant factors for the court to consider when deciding whether to waive juvenile court jurisdiction. One factor is the availability of supervision and services in the juvenile court system. See § 938.18(5)(c). While the court’s mistaken belief about the length of time M.N. would be under juvenile court jurisdiction meant it weighed this factor as being in favor of waiver (¶¶8-9), in light of the court’s explanation for its waiver decision the mistake is harmless:

¶18     Here, there is no reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the waiver outcome. See [Martindale v. Ripp, 2001 WI 113, 32, 246 Wis. 2d 67, 629 N.W.2d 698]. As stated above, Max contends that a dispositional order could continue for a year regardless of when Max turns eighteen. The circuit court’s comments, however, reflect that it believed that more than one year was necessary. When discussing the Serious Juvenile Offender Program, which Max is not eligible for, the circuit court indicated that the potentially five-year long program would have been “extremely helpful.” The court stated that this would have “given years of services, an extended period in which … would’ve gone a long way for those of us in the system to fulfilling our respective responsibilities to protect the community.” Thus, the circuit court’s comments reflect that it believed that “years” of services and supervision was needed to protect the community.

¶19     In addition, we note that in its decision, the circuit court indicated that Max’s record and his conduct underlying this matter both weighed “heavily” in favor of waiver to adult court. Nothing about the circuit court’s error changes the analysis on those two factors.

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