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In re Interest of A.J.M.

Supreme Court of Iowa

June 6, 2014

IN THE INTEREST OF A.J.M., Minor Child. STATE OF IOWA, Appellant

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Charles D. Fagan, Judge. The State appeals a decision by the juvenile court to waive sex offender registration.

DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS VACATED; DISTRICT COURT JUDGMENT AFFIRMED IN PART AND REVERSED IN PART; CASE REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Bruce L. Kempkes, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew D. Wilber, County Attorney, and Dawn M. Landon, Assistant County Attorney, for appellant.

Roberta J. Penning Megel, State Public Defender, Council Bluffs, for minor child.

CADY, Chief Justice. ZAGER, Justice (dissenting). Waterman, J., joins this dissent.

OPINION

Page 602

CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal, we consider the authority of the juvenile court to waive the requirement for a person adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile for an offense covered under the sex offender registry statute to register as a sex offender. The juvenile court waived the registration requirement for the sex offender in this case for a variety of reasons, but without finding that the juvenile was not likely to reoffend. Following an appeal by the State, we transferred the case to the court of appeals. It reversed the decision of the juvenile court and directed that the person register as a sex offender. On further review, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the decision of the juvenile court, and remand the case to the juvenile court to decide the waiver of registration based on the standard articulated in this opinion. We otherwise affirm the decision of the juvenile court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

A.J.M. was sixteen years old when she was adjudicated delinquent by the juvenile court in April 2011. The delinquency was based on the crime of sexual abuse in the second degree. A.J.M. admitted she engaged in various and repeated acts of sexual abuse with her younger sister and brother over the course of approximately two years. The abuse began in January 2009 when A.J.M. was fourteen years of age and her siblings were four and two years of age. Pursuant to a dispositional order entered in conjunction with the adjudication, the juvenile court transferred custody of A.J.M. to the department of human services for placement at the State Training School for Girls in Toledo until she received maximum benefits from the placement.

Prior to the delinquency proceedings, A.J.M. lived with her mother and three siblings in Council Bluffs. A.J.M. did not know her father, and all her siblings had different fathers. Her mother worked as an insurance agent and tax preparer. A.J.M. was a junior in high school at the time of the delinquency proceedings. She did well in school academically and was active in sports and dance. By the time she turned fourteen years of age, she had become sexually active. The sexual abuse of her siblings began after the mother discovered A.J.M. was pregnant and began to place restrictions on her. The pregnancy ended in a miscarriage a few weeks later.

A report prepared by a juvenile court officer prior to the dispositional hearing recommended that the court wait to decide whether A.J.M. should be required to register as a sex offender following her discharge until she successfully completed sexual offender treatment. The predispositional report also indicated there were no residential sex offender treatment programs for girls in Iowa. Another report indicated A.J.M. suffered from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Impulse Control Disorder.

A.J.M. entered the training school in May 2011. A treatment plan was developed by staff at the training school. The primary goals of the plan were for A.J.M. to accept directives, control her thoughts and actions, integrate values into her life, and improve her overall wellness.

Page 603

A.J.M. did well in her educational classes at the training school, but otherwise struggled to meet the goals of the treatment plan. A psychological evaluation of A.J.M. in July 2011 indicated she was very impulsive and had almost no control over her sexual urges. She was also seen as manipulative and unable to see how her actions affected others. A case-review report by the treatment team at the training school in February 2012 indicated A.J.M. was failing to meet the expectations of her treatment plan. The treatment team recommended at that time A.J.M. " be placed in the sexual offender registry due to her lack of effort in her program and lack of remorse for her actions." At the same time, a psychologist employed by the training school authored a separate report to express his " deep concern" over A.J.M. and her lack of progress after nearly ten months in the training school. He recommended A.J.M. be placed in the sexual offender registry " for her safety and safety of others." He also indicated she needed to be placed in a long-term sexual offender treatment program.

A.J.M. graduated from high school while in the training school, but was viewed by the psychologist as being at risk to reoffend. She admitted to making plans to engage in sexual activities with her peers in a bathroom at the training school and continued to have problems controlling her sexual thoughts and urges. In a discharge summary report in October 2012, the treatment team indicated A.J.M. had learned how to be pleasant and charming on the surface, which they believed made her very dangerous to society. The team viewed her as intelligent, but felt she had taken little or no responsibility for her behavior and lacked remorse and empathy for others. The team recommended she be placed on the sexual offender registry due to her lack of effort in her treatment program and lack of remorse for her actions.

The juvenile court officer who had been assigned to A.J.M. since her placement at the training school submitted a report in November 2012. He acknowledged A.J.M. maintained inappropriate thoughts about children and females, but felt A.J.M. would be homeless if she were required to register as a sex offender.

The final review hearing was held in November 2012. The juvenile court officer assigned to A.J.M. testified that there would be no area in Council Bluffs for A.J.M. to live if she were required to register as a sex offender. He was also critical of the absence of a sex offender treatment program for girls in Iowa and felt the State failed A.J.M. by failing to provide her with an appropriate treatment program. He indicated that child sex offender treatment programs have a very high rate of success. On the other hand, the State submitted expert opinions and other evidence that A.J.M. was at risk to reoffend upon discharge. There was also evidence of personality traits that engendered concerns about the dangers of reoffending. There was no dispute that the treatment provided to her had failed to achieve the desired modification of behavior.

Following the hearing, the juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction and discharged A.J.M. It also waived the requirement for her to register as a sex offender. The court waived the registry requirement based on its conclusion that the treatment offered to A.J.M. at the training school was inadequate, and the registration requirement would only compound the State's failure to properly treat her by making her life more difficult upon discharge. The court also found A.J.M. was aware of the consequences of reoffending

Page 604

and wanted to pursue further treatment upon release. The court believed A.J.M. did the best she was able to do under the circumstances, and her failure to overcome her problems was the fault of the State.

The State appealed. It claims the juvenile court abused its discretion by waiving the requirement for A.J.M. to register as a sex offender. We transferred the case to the court of appeals. It reversed the order of the juvenile court and directed that A.J.M. be required to register as a sex offender. We granted further review.

II. Standard of Review.

We normally review proceedings in juvenile court de novo. In re J.D.F., 553 N.W.2d 585, 587 (Iowa 1996). When the issue on appeal relates to statutory discretion exercised by the juvenile court, however, we review the evidence de novo to determine whether the discretion was abused. In re C.W.R., 518 N.W.2d 780, 783 (Iowa 1994). Additionally, when the issue requires the interpretation of a ...


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