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Commonwealth v. Samuel S.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Hampden

February 17, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SAMUEL S., a juvenile.

          Heard: November 9, 2016.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Hampden County Division of the Juvenile Court Department on August 21, 2014. Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on October 3, 2014.

         Motions for relief from conditions of probation were heard by Judith J. Phillips, J., and a motion for reconsideration was considered by her.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Laura Chrismer Edmonds for the juvenile.

          Cynthia Cullen Payne, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Ryan M. Schiff & Caroline Alpert, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          BOTSFORD, J.

         The juvenile was adjudicated both a youthful offender and a delinquent juvenile as the result of a single sexual assault. A Juvenile Court judge ordered the juvenile to register as a sex offender and to submit to global positioning system (GPS) monitoring, concluding that both consequences, under the relevant statutes, were mandatory. The juvenile argues that this conclusion was error. He argues first that the pertinent section of the sex offender registration statute, G. L. c. 6, § 178E (f_), required the judge to make an individualized determination whether the juvenile must register as a sex offender because he was not "sentenced to immediate confinement" within the meaning of the statute. He also argues that the GPS monitoring statute, G. L. c. 265, § 47, as interpreted by this court in Commonwealth v. Hanson H., 464 Mass. 807 (2013), does not require youthful offenders to submit to GPS monitoring. We agree with the juvenile on both points. Accordingly, we vacate the judge's decision.[1]

          Background. 1. Facts.[2] This case stems from a sexual assault that occurred in June, 2014. The juvenile, who was seventeen years old at the time, was at home with the victim, his five-year-old half-sister. The victim's father returned home and entered the living room. There, he saw the victim being pushed to the ground and noticed that the juvenile sitting on the couch "with his drawers and his pants at his ankles." The victim was naked from the waist down.

         The juvenile initially denied any wrongdoing. The victim later described that the juvenile had touched her genitals and chest area, made her touch his genitals, and penetrated her labia with his penis in a way that caused her pain.

         2. Prosecution, plea, and sentencing. Two juvenile delinquency complaints issued, charging the juvenile with one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under fourteen, G. L. c. 265, § 13B, and one count of rape of a child with force, G. L. c. 265, § 22A. Three youthful offender indictments also issued, charging the juvenile with one count of rape of a child with force, G. L. c. 265, § 22A, and two counts of aggravated rape of a child, G. L. c. 265, § 23A.

         In January, 2015, all charges were resolved pursuant to a plea agreement. The juvenile admitted to sufficient facts to warrant an adjudication as a youthful offender on the count of rape of a child with force and as a delinquent juvenile on the count of indecent assault and battery of a child. The Commonwealth filed a nolle prosequi on the remaining three charges. The judge accepted the parties' joint sentencing recommendation. Pursuant to the recommendation, the judge sentenced the juvenile on the youthful offender count to a combination sentence as described in G. L. c. 119, § 58 (b). As part of that sentence, the juvenile was committed to the Department of Youth Services (DYS). The juvenile was also committed to DYS on the juvenile delinquency count.

         3. Registration and GPS monitoring. After the plea and sentencing, the juvenile filed two motions in which he sought relief from mandatory sex offender registration under G. L. c. 6, § 178E (f_), and relief from mandatory GPS monitoring under G. L. c. 265, § 47, and this court's opinion in Hanson H., 464 Mass. 807. In February, 2015, the judge ruled that she had discretion to relieve the juvenile of both the registration and the GPS monitoring requirements, and ordered a risk assessment evaluation to enable her to determine whether either, or both, should apply to the juvenile. The Commonwealth moved for reconsideration, which the juvenile opposed. The judge then issued a revised decision in June, 2015, in which she reversed her position, ultimately concluding that the relevant statutes permitted her no discretion to relieve the juvenile from sex offender registration or GPS monitoring.

         4. Juvenile's appeal. The juvenile appealed from the judge's revised decision.[3] We allowed the juvenile's application for direct appellate review and transferred the case to this court.

         Discussion. 1. Jurisdiction. The Commonwealth first argues that the juvenile's appeal regarding mandatory registration is not properly before the court because he has not exhausted all administrative remedies or sought relief under G. L. c. 211, § 3.[4] We agree that the juvenile has not followed the appropriate procedure to obtain review of this claim. See Commonwealth v. Ronald R., 450 Mass. 262, 266-267 (2007) (no automatic right of appeal when juvenile is denied relief from registration obligation). The appropriate procedure would have been to file a petition for relief under G. L. c. 211, § 3, in the county court. See id.

          Nonetheless, it will serve a substantial public interest to resolve the questions presented by the juvenile's appeal, these questions are likely to arise again, and the case has been fully briefed and argued before the court. Accordingly, we will answer the questions in this. See Hanson H., 464 Mass. at 808 n.2 (deciding merits of appeal despite mootness, when issue raised was of significant public interest, fully briefed, and very likely to arise again in similar circumstances, yet evade review). See also Commonwealth v. Doe, 420 Mass. 142, 143 (1995), overruled on other grounds by Commonwealth v. Pon, 469 Mass. 296 (2014) (exercising discretion to comment on issues presented despite fact that report from lower court was not properly before court); Cobb v. Cobb, 406 Mass. 21, 24 n.2 (1989) (citing authority provided by G. L. c. 211, § 3, to answer improperly reported questions).

         2. Registration as a sex offender. The first question presented is whether G. L. c. 6, § 178E (f_) (§ 178E [ f_]), [5] permitted the judge discretion to relieve the juvenile of the requirement to register as a sex offender. That is a question of statutory construction subject to de novo review by this court. See Commonwealth v. Ventura, 465 Mass. 202, 208 (2013).

         Section 178E (f_) permits a sentencing judge, in certain sex offense cases, to conduct an individualized determination of whether the sex offender must register as such. The section contemplates three categories of sex offenders: (1) an adult who has been convicted of a sex offense, (2) a juvenile who has been adjudicated a youthful offender by reason of a sex offense, and (3) a juvenile who has been adjudicated delinquent by reason of a sex offense. Id. In any case where the sentencing judge has not sentenced such a sex offender "to immediate confinement, " the judge is to determine, within fourteen days of sentencing, "whether the circumstances of the offense in conjunction with the offender's criminal history indicate that the sex offender does not pose a risk of reoffense or a danger to the public." Id. If the judge so determines, and none of the statutory exceptions applies, [6] then the judge is to relieve the individual from the obligation to register as a sex offender. Id.

         Given the language of § 178E (f_), the narrow question we confront is whether the juvenile in this case, who has been committed to DYS both as a youthful offender and as a delinquent juvenile, has been "sentenced to immediate confinement" within the meaning of § 178E (f_) .

         a. Meaning of "sentenced to immediate confinement." We begin with the plain meaning of the statutory language. See Commonwealth v. Mogelinski, 466 Mass. 627, 633 (2013), S_.C., 473 Mass. 164 (2015). The terms "sentenced, " "confinement, " and "immediate confinement" are not defined within the sex offender registration statute. See G. L. c. 6, § 178C (definitions applicable to §§ 178C to 178P). As a result, we look to dictionary definitions as a guide to a ...


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