Juvenile Law Center, along with private attorneys Dennis Elisco and Stephen Colafella, filed this brief in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of 14-year-old J.B., arguing that J.B. should be released from detention pending his adjudicatory hearing in juvenile court.
J.B. was arrested in February 2009, when he was 11 years old, and charged with the murder of his father's pregnant girlfriend. He has been continuously detained in custody since that time. While J.B. was initially charged in adult court, Juvenile Law Center and his private attorneys successfully fought to have J.B.'s case heard in juvenile court. But when the juvenile court was finally ready to hold J.B.'s adjudicatory hearing in September 2011, three media companies intervened in the case to argue that the proceedings should be open to the public. The juvenile court denied the media companies' request, leading them to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which also issued a stay of J.B.'s adjudicatory hearing until resolution of the media's appeal. In the meantime, J.B. has been sitting in detention for almost three years without being afforded the opportunity of an adjudicatory hearing in juvenile court.
The brief argues that J.B. must immediately be released from detention pending his adjudicatory hearing because his unlawful detention violates Pennsylvania's Juvenile Act. Specifically, because his adjudicatory hearing was not held within the ten-day period set forth in 42 PA. CONN. STAT. ANN. § 6335(a), and the delay was not caused by either J.B. or his counsel, Pennsylvania law mandates his immediate release while he awaits his adjudicatory hearing.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the lower court's decision to close J.B.'s trial to the public.
On April 13, 2012, the trial court entered an order adjudicating J.B. delinquent. That order was amended by order of April 20, 2012, at which time the trial court filed an opinion in the case. On May 18, 2012, the trial court entered its Dispositional Order.
Juvenile Law Center and attorneys Dennis Elisco and Stephen Colafella filed an appeal in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania challenging J.B.'s sentence as against the weight of the evidence. The joint brief argued that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that J.B. committed two acts of homicide where the finding was based on evidence that was so contentious, vague and uncertain that the adjudication shocks the conscience of the court.
Specifically, the brief argued that the trial court made findings of the fact that were not supported by the Commonwealth's very limited forensic evidence, and heavily discounted, if not completely ignored, other forensic evidence, or lack thereof, that undermined the findings on which the adjudication was based. The trial court, as well, failed to recognize that under the Commonwealth's timeline of the sequence of events, which the court accepted, there was no window of opportunity for J.B. to commit the crime. The brief requests that the Court reverse its adjudication of delinquency and remand the case for a new trial.
On May 8, 2013, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued its Opinion which vacated the juvenile court’s dispositional order and remanded the case for further proceedings. In its conclusion, the Opinion stated “…we conclude that J.B.’s weight of evidence claim is meritorious, in that the juvenile court committed a palpable abuse of discretion in rendering a ruling contrary to the evidence of the record.”