By Gretchen Schuldt
A judge who orally gave one disposition for a juvenile offender but issued a different disposition in writing must adhere to his oral order, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The ruling means that Brandon, if still on court-ordered supervision, does not have to wear an ankle bracelet unless the state specifically requests it and the judge agrees.
District III Appellate Judge Gregory B. Gill Jr. did not rule on a key issue raised in the case: Is electronic monitoring something the court must order or can it be implemented by a juvenile justice worker as a "case management tool"?
Brandon is a pseudonym to protect the juvenile's identity, Gill said in his opinion.
Electronic monitoring of juveniles is widespread and controversial. Academics and advocates have expressed numerous concerns about the practice. As the University of California Berkeley School of Law’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic and the East Bay Community Law Center put it:
Although generally perceived as a less punitive alternative to incarceration, electronic monitoring can be overly burdensome: it often entails home confinement, invasive surveillance, and high fees. As the report demonstrates, programs can impose dozens of strict and inflexible rules on participants. Financial burdens imposed by electronic monitoring programs disproportionately hurt low-income families. Personal privacy violations are also a concern.
Brandon was on electronic monitoring because of a broken toilet tank cover and toilet paper dispenser.
He was arrested in August 2020 after Antigo police received a complaint about damage at a local laundromat. The toilet tank cover was smashed and a toilet paper dispenser was ripped of the wall, resulting in total damages of $150 to $400.
Surveillance footage showed Brandon walking into the restroom and leaving a short time later. The footage also showed the broken items on the floor a short time later.
Brandon, when questioned by police, said the he punched the toilet paper dispenser because it was not working, Gill wrote. He said the toilet was not flushing properly, so he lifted the tank lid, and it slipped.
He eventually admitted to one count of disorderly conduct; both his lawyer and the state recommended formal supervision.
Langlade County Circuit Judge John B. Rhode explained during the disposition hearing that he could order electronic monitoring, among other things. Brandon was already on an ankle bracelet ordered during an earlier hearing, asked when he could have it removed. A juvenile justice worker said Brandon would have to show good behavior and then his treatment team would decide when to remove the monitoring.
(Most of the records in the case are sealed because a juvenile was involved, so it cannot be determined how long Brandon was on electronic monitoring or when or if the monitoring ended before Tuesday's decision.)
Brandon's lawyer requested the ankle bracelet be removed.
"During argument, the State noted significant concerns about Brandon, including several hospitalizations for self-harming activities," Gill wrote. "The State further argued that Brandon was able to transition back to his home while being accountable to his supervision...through the use of electronic monitoring. With respect to the electronic monitoring, the State noted that it was not a punishment but, rather, a case management tool."
Gill did not address how electronic monitoring would prevent Brandon from hurting himself.
Brandon's mother expressed concerns about his behavior and the juvenile justice worker said Brandon did not come right home after school as his mother had instruction the week earlier and on another occasion, had left home without permission.
The worker "stated that Brandon was not confined by the electronic monitoring because he was able to go to school, appointments, and places with his mother."
The worker also said he "considered electronic monitoring a great management tool," Gill wrote.
"Conversely, Brandon’s counsel argued that electronic monitoring was not a case management tool but instead a 'sanction to be given by the Court,' ” Gill wrote.
Rhode put Brandon on supervision for a year and declined to order electronic monitoring. (Online court records indicate that Brandon's supervision may have lapsed last month.)
"All I will say to both sides if the [S]tate wants me to order it they can schedule further proceedings and we’ll take that up," Rhode said from the bench. "If the defense wants me to order that it stop they can schedule further proceedings and order that it stop or if they think it’s being used inappropriately."
When Rhode's written decision came down, however, it adopted the county's juvenile "rules of supervision," which includes a rule that states: “The youth shall participate in the electronic monitoring program as deemed appropriate by the assigned juvenile worker for any violation of supervision.”
Brandon appealed, arguing first that the Rhode cannot delegate to the juvenile justice worker the authority for imposing electronic monitoring. He also argued that electronic monitoring was not an appropriate sanction because it was not included in the state statute establishing approved punishments.
"We need not address these issues because we conclude that the court's written order was inconsistent with its oral pronouncement," Gill wrote.
When oral and written pronouncements conflict, he said, the oral pronouncement rules.
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