An order by a Juvenile Court judge on a pre-printed form made by checking boxes and writing cursory comments, was thrown out by the Georgia Court of Appeals. The judge admits he got sloppy on the form, but stands by the merits of his decision and explains that the case was complicated by Georgia sentencing guidelines.
JXB, a minor from central Georgia, was sentenced to a year in secure state detention for bringing a weapon to school, as specified in an order earlier this year from Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Juvenile Court Judge Philip Spivey.
But the order itself was a pre-printed form that offered check-box options to serve as findings, such as: offender “has demonstrated by his conduct a lack of respect for authority, both parental and legal.”
The form also includes boilerplate language on the five categories that Georgia law requires juvenile sentencing judges to consider, such as needs and best interests of the child and protection of the community. Underneath, there is space for the court to record the facts in each category, said Carl Cansino, JXB’s attorney.
“But in my particular case, most of the lines said ‘N/A, not applicable’ … there’s not any facts in there,” he contended. As soon as he saw the order, Cansino said, he knew he would appeal. He brought the question of the form itself and the merits of the case to the appeals court.
“Mea culpa,” admitted Spivey, but explained, “I did the right thing; I just didn’t do it in the right form.”
The Court of Appeals remanded the order back down to Spivey’s court but did not rule on the merits of the case. Spivey this month released JXB on time served: six months.
“I wish I had given him six months to start with, that’s what I would like to have done, but you know we can’t do that,” Spivey said.
Georgia has two types of secure detention facility for minors—those for short sentences of 30 days or less and those for long sentence of one year or more.
There’s no way for Spivey or any other juvenile judge to order medium-term confinement.
JXB took a baseball bat to school and used it to hit another student—a bully who scared JXB and who is now an adult in the Baldwin County Jail, according to Cansino.
But according to Spivey, JXB had also exhibited violence in the classroom and had directed that violence against others. He said teachers testified that JXB was in the worst fight they had ever seen.
The assault on the victim was pre-planned, the judge said, and with a bat in play, “people could have been seriously injured or killed, that’s what I was concerned about.”
As for the form, Spivey said it is used in about eight of ten designated felony cases — the most serious offenses — that go through his eight-county court circuit. He got it from another judge at a seminar.
It’s not one of the many forms referenced in the Uniform Rules for the Juvenile Courts of Georgia, said Council of Juvenile Court Judges of Georgia Executive Director Eric John.
But he defended forms, when used correctly. “There are all kinds of forms out there … with preprinted verbiage,” John said, “but you have to type in the crucial language.”
Cansino criticized the form saying, “I think any time you have a fill-in-the-blank or check form, it lends itself to being as brief as possible.”
He continued: “How many cases have gone where people are now in the RYDC with check-boxed orders?” He predicted courts will “flush” the form.
However, John said he does not think poorly-filled out juvenile orders are a widespread problem; if it were, more cases would appear in appeals court.
But few juvenile cases appear in the Court of Appeals on any grounds. A recent study of several states gives some explanations. One is that many juvenile sentences are so short, measured in months, that they are served out before an offender could get a court date.
Because JXB is a juvenile, court records and his name are sealed.