In re J.B.
Juvenile Law Center, along with private attorneys Dennis Elisco and Stephen Colafella, and previously David Acker, have represented J.B. since 2009.
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.
When the juvenile court was finally ready to hold J.B.'s adjudicatory hearing in September 2011, however, 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 appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which stayed J.B.'s adjudicatory hearing until resolution of the media's appeal. In the meantime, J.B. had been sitting in detention for almost three years without being afforded the opportunity of an adjudicatory hearing in juvenile court.
Juvenile Law Center and co-counsel filed a brief arguing that J.B. must immediately be released from detention pending his adjudicatory hearing because his unlawful detention violates Pennsylvania's Juvenile Act.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the lower court's decision to close J.B.'s trial to the public.
On April 2012, the trial court adjudicated J.B. delinquent. 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 requested 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. The Superior Court 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.”
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Juvenile Law Center filed a brief on behalf of J.B. in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in February 2014.
In December 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court’s ruling on the weight of the evidence without reaching the merits and remanded the matter to the juvenile court, holding that J.B. is entitled to file a motion for a new trial nunc pro tunc. On behalf of J.B., attorneys timely filed a nunc pro tunc motion with the juvenile court in January 2015, which the juvenile court denied on May 19, 2015. J.B.’s counsel timely appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
In September 2015, Juvenile Law Center and co-counsel Dennis Elisco and Stephen Colafella, filed a brief in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. We argued that J.B.’s adjudication must be set aside because the evidence is legally insufficient to support the juvenile court’s finding that J.B. committed the homicides. We also argued in the alternative, that J.B. is entitled to a new trial because the juvenile court committed a palpable abuse of discretion in reaching key findings unsupported by the record, and, also in the alternative, that the Superior Court must vacate the juvenile court’s ruling on J.B.’s nunc pro tunc motion because the juvenile court impermissibly relied on reevaluations of fact and redeterminations of credibility in reaching its holding.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the juvenile court's order in an opinion issued in September of 2016.
Juvenile Law Center and co-counsel filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania urging the Court to grant review to clarify that trial courts cannot make new findings of fact or determinations of credibility on post-trial motions like J.B.'s, regardless of whether the trial court changes its verdict, and, in addition, to correct the Superior Court's holdings that there was sufficient evidence to support J.B.'s adjudication, and that the adjudication was not against the weight of the evidence. The court granted the Petition for Allowance of Appeal limited to the issues of sufficiency of the evidence an weight of the evidence. In July 2018, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacated J.B.’s adjudication and held that “[o]ur careful review of the evidentiary record in this matter compels our conclusion that the evidence introduced at [J.B.’s] adjudicatory hearing was insufficient, as a matter of law, to establish his delinquency for these offenses beyond a reasonable doubt.”