Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer Lloyd Long discusses details surrounding the Pennsylvania’s Superior Court’s decision in the L.P. case. This was a Commonwealth appeal from a pretrial order granting decertification in a direct-file case. The fifteen-year-old juvenile felt disrespected at a dance. After leaving, he sought out a friend; they returned and opened fire. No one was killed, but shotgun pellets did strike and injure some people.
At the decertification hearing, an expert testified extensively concerning the juvenile’s amenability to treatment, and explained his opinion as to why prior interventions in the juvenile system had been unsuccessful. He also testified that a long course of treatment in a juvenile setting would likely be beneficial and that the public interest would be better served with that disposition as opposed to a one that treated him as an adult.
The Commonwealth called the investigating detective who testified extensively about the impact of guns on the streets in Harrisburg as well as to unflattering details about the juvenile (including his five months on the run between the shooting and his arrest).
The lower court granted decertification because past contacts with the juvenile system did not offer Appellee an opportunity for rehabilitation, that he was amenable to rehabilitation, and that it was in society’s best long-term interest for the case to be handled in the juvenile system.
The Superior Court affirmed. The trial court properly considered the wealth of evidence presented at the decertification hearing and evaluated each factor in the section of the decertification statute dealing with the public interest, 42 Pa.C.S. §6322(a)(4)(iii). As such, there was no abuse of discretion. The Commonwealth’s request that the Superior Court discount the “objectively unreasonable” testimony of the expert was not a ground for reversal: the trial court, to which that determination is founded, found him credible.
Judge Panella dissented; he would have found an abuse of discretion based on the profound threat the juvenile posed to the public. In his words, “In a little over a year, [the juvenile] went from disorderly conduct to heroin deliveries to evading capture to attempted homicides. One worries what is next.”