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Commonwealth v. J.A.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

November 20, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
J.A., a juvenile.

          Heard: September 7, 2017.

         Indictments found and returned in the Suffolk County Division of the Juvenile Court Department on November 19, 2015. A motion to dismiss was heard by Peter M. Coyne, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Elianna J. Nuzum, Special Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Benjamin L. Falkner for the juvenile.

          The following submitted briefs for amici curiae:

          Michael W. Morrissey, District Attorney for the Norfolk District, & Tracey A. Cusick & Stephanie Martin Glennon, Assistant District Attorneys, for District Attorney for the Norfolk District.

          Jeffrey J. Pokorak, Kimberly Cariani, & Jaclyn Collier for Juvenile Law Center of Suffolk University Law School & another.

          Virginia F. Coleman for Animal Legal Defense Fund.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          BUDD, J.

         The juvenile is alleged to have brutally attacked his friend's dog. The Commonwealth elected to proceed against the juvenile pursuant to the youthful offender statute, G. L. c. 119, § 54, on the ground that he caused serious bodily harm to the dog.[1] The juvenile argues that the youthful offender indictments are not supported by probable cause because the phrase "serious bodily harm" in the statute contemplates harm to human beings, not animals.[2] We agree and therefore affirm the dismissal below. We note, however, that the Commonwealth still may take action against the juvenile by seeking a complaint for delinquency against him.[3]

         Background.

         The following facts are taken from the testimony presented to the grand jury. In August, 2015, when the juvenile was fourteen years old, he tortured a friend's dog by shoving a soap dispenser pump into the dog's vagina, resulting in serious internal injuries to the dog.[4]

         A grand jury returned two youthful offender indictments against the juvenile, charging him with cruelty to animals and bestiality. See G. L. c. 272, §§ 34, 77. A Juvenile Court judge allowed the juvenile's motion to dismiss, concluding that the phrase "serious bodily harm" in the youthful offender statute refers only to human victims. The Commonwealth appealed, and we transferred the case to this court on our own motion.

         D ...


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