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Defense Win! Court properly dismissed juvenile case with prejudice due to State’s blown deadline

State v. M.D.B., Jr., 2023AP620, 2/6/24, District I (1-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The State’s efforts to revive this delinquency case on appeal fail, as they are unable to persuade COA that the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion in dismissing the petition with prejudice for failure to comply with a statutory deadline.

M.D.B. was arrested on October 17, 2022 for operating a motor vehicle without owner’s consent. (¶2). The State received a referral the following day. (¶3). Pursuant to § 938.25(2)(a), this meant that the State had 20 days to make its charging decision. (Id.). However, the State also had information that M.D.B. may have been involved in a separate incident occurring earlier in October, although it had not yet received a referral. (¶4). Its goal was to either consolidate the two incidents in one petition or at the very least issue the two cases simultaneously. (Id.). However, while it was waiting on the referral for the other allegations, it missed the twenty day deadline in this case. (Id.).

When the petition was ultimately filed, defense counsel therefore moved to dismiss with prejudice. (¶5). The State asked to file a written response in advance of the court’s oral decision, but neglected to file anything on or before the deadline set by the circuit court. (¶6). It then handed in an unfiled copy at the scheduled oral ruling. (¶7). The prosecutor explained that he missed the deadline due to the legal research required and, in response, the circuit court admonished him for not seeking to extend the briefing deadline rather than simply blowing it off. (Id.). The matter was then rescheduled to accommodate the State. (Id.). When the parties reconvened, however, the prosecutor had still not eFiled his submission and only did so during the hearing itself. (¶8).

The circuit court then gave a lengthy oral ruling which cited “the relevant statutes, the applicable case law” and which discussed “the facts of the case.” (¶9). It found that the State’s excuse for missing its deadline did not constitute good cause, noted its analysis of good cause was impacted by the State’s additional negligence in prosecuting the case, and ultimately concluded that dismissal with prejudice was the appropriate outcome. (Id.). It emphasized that this was a difficult decision which required it to balance the interest of the victim against the rights of the juvenile. (Id.). Ultimately, dismissal was appropriate so as to avoid giving the State a “free pass” to violate the juvenile’s legal rights. (Id). 

On appeal, both parties agree that the applicable standard of review is the lenient erroneous exercise of discretion standard. (¶12). The State also agrees that the circuit court identified the correct legal standard, which is outlined in F.E.W. v. State.(¶15). F.E.W. identifies several factors the judge can consider in deciding whether to dismiss an untimely delinquency petition; the State argues that the circuit court failed to adequately apply those factors to the facts of this case. (Id.). The State’s argument, fails, however, because COA holds that F.E.W. does not mandate consideration of all the factors discussed therein; and, even it did, the circuit court adequately discussed those factors here. (¶18). The State also argues that the circuit court evinced the legally incorrect opinion that dismissal was the proper remedy “simply because there is a mechanism for it.” (¶20). COA disagrees with that reading, as the transcript belies any assertion “that the circuit believed that its only option was to dismiss the case with prejudice.” (¶22). Accordingly, COA affirms this discretionary decision. (¶23).

One might be wondering why the State appealed this case at all, given its somewhat embarrassing repeated failures. A closer look at the footnotes reveals, however, that things are a little more squishy under the surface. F.E.W., as COA highlights, seems to suggest that the standard of review question is up in the air, as that authority appears to stand for the proposition that a finding of good cause in this context is independently, not deferentially, reviewed. That would have made this a better case for the State, hence its concession that the case is governed by a discretionary standard is a real head-scratcher. (Although COA acknowledges that, even if it was applying an independent review, it would have reached the same conclusion).

Likewise, while the parties and COA focus on F.E.W., the applicability of that case to these facts is a little suspect. F.E.W. addressed an earlier version of the statute instructing the reader: “The court shall dismiss with prejudice a petition which was not timely filed unless the court finds at the plea hearing that good cause has been shown for failure to meet the time limitations.” However, the version of the statute at issue in this case instructs the reader that dismissal with prejudice is only one possible remedy. See § 938.25(2)(a); § 938.315(3).  While these nuances may not matter to the outcome of this appeal, we nonetheless feel readers encountering a future fact pattern of this nature should be aware of these potential wrinkles in citing this persuasive authority.

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