Adult Jail Time as an Alternative to Juvenile Detention
In O.P. v. State (State ex rel. O.P.), 2016 UT App 181, the Utah Court of Appeals addressed whether adult jail can legally serve as an alternative to juvenile detention.
O.P. appealed the order of the juvenile court, which included jail time. He was pulled over by the police when he was seventeen and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Three months later, when O.P. was eighteen, the State filed a petition in the juvenile court for his DUI, which would be a class B misdemeanor if committed by an adult. O.P. admitted to the allegation. The probation officer recommended jail time, considering the numerous experiences O.P. has with the court and the fact that he had already been on probation twice before. Therefore, the juvenile court ordered O.P. to serve thirty days in jail with twenty-seven days suspended. He also had to pay a fine and undergo drug and alcohol treatment. O.P. was turned away when he reported to the jail because the jail was too crowded. O.P was shot in the leg that same evening, so the juvenile court excused him from serving the three days in jail.
Before reporting to the jail, O.P filed a motion to withdraw his admission, and the juvenile court denied the motion. O.P. appealed, arguing that the juvenile court misinterpreted Utah Code Section 78-A-6-117 when it concluded that jail was a proper alternative to detention. This court began its analysis with the statute’s plain language. Section 78A-6-117 states that the court may commit a minor to an alternative to detention for a period not to exceed 30 days subject to the court retaining continuing jurisdiction over the minor. Therefore, the juvenile court had the authority to commit O.P. to either a place of detention or an alternative to detention.
The court concluded that an adult jail cannot be considered a place of detention. The Juvenile Court Act defines detention as secure detention as defined in Section 62A-7-101 for the temporary care of a minor who requires secure custody in a physically restricting facility. This does not, however, resolve the question of whether the adult jail was a permissible alternative to detention.
The court began with the word “alternative,” which indicates something different from the other option of a place of detention. Jail is something different from a place of detention. Also, the legislature has laid out specific instances in which jail may be appropriate for the juvenile court to consider.
O.P. argued that the juvenile court erred in ordering him to spend time in jail because a child may not be committed to jail. This position fails to account for the fact that O.P. was not a child when he was committed to jail. A child is a person under 18 years of age. Additionally, if the legislature intended to specify that individuals in O.P.’s situation cannot be committed to jail, the court would expect to see a provision indicating that someone who was a child at the time of the offense may not be committed to jail. This did not exist in Utah’s statutes. In conclusion, the Court of Appeals agreed with the juvenile court that, under the circumstances, jail is an alternative to detention.