Category: Juvenile Law
Termination of Parental Rights Needs More Than A Good Reason
If you need to talk with a juvenile court lawyer, contact Runge Law Office at email@example.com or at (402) 390-9577 to schedule a free initial consultation. Visit us at www.patrickrunge.com for more information.
The Nebraska Supreme Court reaffirmed the position that for the State to terminate the parental rights of a parent in a juvenile court case, the State must prove both that there is a legitimate reason to do so and that the termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.
Under Nebraska law, for a parent’s rights to be terminated by a juvenile court, the State must prove two things. First, the State must prove that one of the reasons for terminating parental rights defined by statute (such as abandonment, neglect, or ongoing drug usage, the full list can be seen here). But the State must also prove that the termination of parental rights would be in that child’s best interest. If (like in this case) the State proves its grounds for termination but not the best interest, the juvenile court will deny the termination request.
The case, In re Interest of Justine S. and Sylissa J., involved two girls (aged 14 and 11) who were removed from their mother’s care. The State filed a motion to terminate the mother’s parental rights based on the mother’s alleged abandonment of the children and her ongoing drug usage. The juvenile court denied the motion because, while the court did agree that the State proved its grounds, the State did not prove that the termination would be in the children’s best interest. This was, in part, because the children were staying with relatives and were not going to be adopted, which would require a termination of the mother’s parental rights.
The State’s case on appeal was not helped by the fact that the State did not properly draft its brief, meaning the Supreme Court reviewed the case for “plain error” rather than the usual standard on appeal. A “plain error” standard appeal is harder for a party appealing a case to win, as there may be cases where there would be enough questions about the lower court’s ruling to overturn it normally but not enough for an appellate court to find that the lower court committed “plain error.”
Life Without Parole For Juveniles Defined, Rejected By Nebraska Supreme Court
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The Nebraska Supreme Court vacated the sentences of three men, Juan Castaneda, Eric Ramirez, and Douglas Ramitch, who were convicted as teenagers to a sentence of life without parole. A district court will now re-sentence all three men, taking additional factors of their youth at the time that could mitigate their sentences.
Underlying the case was a 2012 decision from the United States Supreme Court, Miller v. Alabama (132 S.Ct. 2455), which held that a sentence of life without parole for a crime committed by a juvenile violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and its guarantee that citizens will be free from “cruel and unusual punishment.”
It was not immediately clear upon the decision in Miller, however, that the sentences in question would have been impermissible. Under Nebraska law at the time of sentencing, individuals have a right to parole once they served one-half of a minimum sentence. However (at least for Castaneda), the only sentence entered was “life imprisonment.” The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that, because it is impossible to calculate what half of a “life imprisonment” sentence is, functionally that means the sentence is life without parole, even if that does not expressly appear on the sentence itself.
The State further argued that the Miller ruling should not apply because Castaneda had the possibility of parole in the form of a sentence commutation. Under Nebraska law, the Board of Pardons (specifically, the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State) can commute a sentence, which would make the individual eligible for parole.
But the Nebraska Supreme Court said that the mere possibility of a commutation from the Board of Pardons (a function of the executive branch of Nebraska’s government) does not satisfy the requirements of the United States Supreme Court in Miller. Instead, the right of parole for juveniles sentences to life imprison must be “meaningful” and not subject to “executive clemency.”
Castaneda and the other two individuals will be re-sentenced by a district court judge. They may still face life imprisonment, so long as there is a possibility of parole in compliance with Miller and the terms of the new Nebraska Supreme Court decisions.
The full text of the decisions can be found at State v. Castaneda (287 Neb. 289), State v. Mantich (287 Neb. 320), and State v. Ramirez (287 Neb. 356).
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Thank you for taking the time to come visit the official Runge Law Office blog! Here, we will be providing you with important and helpful information about the specific areas of law we focus on, to help you understand your rights and how we can help you find solutions to the problems you face.
We have practiced law in Omaha and eastern Nebraska since 1995. At Runge Law Office, we focus our practice on:
– Family Law. This area includes divorce, custody disputes, child support issues, modification of previous orders when circumstances have changed, and enforcement actions that use the power of the Court to follow a previously-entered order.
– Criminal Defense. We have experience in tribal, state, and federal courts, defending people accused of both felonies and misdemeanors. If you have been accused of a crime, both your freedom and your future are at stake. You need experienced representation that knows how to find a solution to your problem, either through smart negotiation or in court.
– Juvenile Law. If the State has come in and taken your children based on allegations of abuse or neglect, it is critical that you have experienced representation helping you. Once a child has been removed and a juvenile court cause started, by law parents only have a certain amount of time before the State will take actions to permanently take your children away. We have extensive experience in juvenile court, and can help you find a solution to your problem.
– Estate Planning. Thinking about death is always unpleasant. But if you don’t have a plan for your property when you die, the State has one for you. If you want to make sure you have control over your property once you die, you need to speak with us. We have experience in listening to your concerns and crafting the right legal framework to ensure that your wishes are honored and your family is protected after your death. We can also help you with living wills and powers of attorney to make sure your wishes are honored and your rights are protected when you are at your most vulnerable.
– Native American Law. In Indian Country, the intersection of tribal, state, and federal laws can be very challenging. We have years of experience working in Indian Country, in both tribal courts and state courts, and can help you navigate the legal, jurisdictional, and cultural barriers you may be facing. Patrick has been a public defender in tribal court, and is currently the Chief Judge of the Winnebago Tribal Court. He also teaches Native American Law at the Creighton University School of Law, and has taught and spoken frequently about Native American Law issues such as the Indian Child Welfare Act.
At Runge Law Office, we are here to help find solutions for your legal problems. Please contact us at 402-390-9577 or using the form below to ask questions or schedule a free consultation.