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In re J. A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 12, 2017

IN RE J. A., Relator

         Original Proceeding on Petition for Writ of Mandamus

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Higley and Bland.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Laura Carter Higley Justice

         Relator, J. A., has filed a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the respondent juvenile district court judge to vacate his "Nunc Pro Tunc Order to Correct Judgment, " signed on June 23, 2017, and his "Order on Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Motion for Entry Nunc Pro Tunc, " signed on July 28, 2017, in this underlying juvenile delinquency proceeding.[1] This Court requested and received a response by real party in interest The State of Texas. The Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project filed an amicus brief and relator filed a reply. We conditionally grant the petition.

         Background

         J.A. was born on November 29, 1998, and was to turn nineteen on November 29, 2017. Real party in interest, The State of Texas, alleged in a grand-jury approved, determinate sentence petition that J.A. had committed delinquent conduct, namely first-degree aggravated robbery with a pellet gun, on September 27, 2015. On July 19, 2016, J.A., with counsel, signed a stipulation of evidence judicially confessing to aggravated robbery and entered a plea without an agreed recommendation, roughly four months shy of J.A.'s 18th birthday. When discussing possible sentences, J.A.'s counsel reminded the respondent, the Honorable Michael Schneider, that a determinate probation could continue in the juvenile court until J.A. reached the age of 19, and the court agreed, stating that it may have incorrectly stated 18 earlier at the hearing.

         At the end of the July 19, 2016 hearing, the respondent orally ruled that the "[d]isposition will be an 8-year determinate probation, . . . and we're going to return every four to six months while this court has jurisdiction of [J.A.] to see if you know how to follow the rules or not." The court's oral ruling did not mention whether it would have jurisdiction of J.A. until J.A.'s 18th or 19th birthday. However, the sentence-portion of the judgment actually stated that J.A. "now comes under the jurisdiction of said Court and shall continue its care, guidance, and control from 7/19/2016 or until said Respondent becomes eighteen (18) years of age unless discharged prior to and subject to subsequent and additional proceedings. . . ."

         On December 1, 2016, two days after J.A.'s 18th birthday on November 29, 2016, the State filed a petition to modify disposition alleging that J.A. had committed a terroristic threat on November 11, 2016, before J.A. turned 18. On June 13, 2017, J.A. filed a motion to dismiss the modification for want of jurisdiction, claiming that the probation terminated on J.A.'s 18th birthday. The juvenile court held a hearing on J.A.'s motion to dismiss on June 15, 2017. The parties made legal arguments over whether the court retained jurisdiction, and the State argued that the judgment contains clerical errors that can be corrected via a nunc pro tunc order. The court took the motion under consideration.

         On June 16, 2017, the State filed a motion for nunc pro tunc claiming that clerical errors in the original judgment did not comport with the oral pronouncement of the disposition. On June 29, 2017, the juvenile court held an evidentiary hearing on J.A.'s motion to dismiss and the State's motion for nunc pro tunc. The State noted that J.A. had continued to appear throughout the probationary period including after J.A.'s 18th birthday, indicating that J.A. understood that the court would continue supervision until J.A.'s 19th birthday.

         The State called Claudia Marquez, a district court clerk, as the only witness. Marquez testified that she had not read the reporter's record of the sentence, the judge had not told her to put the probation ends at "18 years" on the judgment, that their office used an outdated form judgment database, which had a 2013 revision date, and that the individual clerk has no power to change the judgment beyond adding certain information. Marquez also testified that their software had recently been updated due to this case, and that determinate judgments now show that the court has jurisdiction until a juvenile's 19th birthday.

         At the end of the hearing, the respondent stated his personal recollections of his rendition that he understood he would supervise J.A. until J.A.'s 19th birthday, and the inclusion of "18 years" on the judgment was merely a clerical error because the judgment was generated by the individual clerk, not the judge. On June 23, 2017, the respondent signed a "Nunc Pro Tunc Order to Correct Judgment" that replaced the relevant references in the judgment from "18th birthday" with "19th birthday." On July 28, 2017, the respondent denied J.A.'s motion to dismiss and granted the State's motion for nunc pro tunc judgment by signing an "Order on Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Motion for Entry Nunc Pro Tunc."

         On August 16, 2017, J.A. filed this mandamus petition contending, among other things, that the juvenile court's nunc pro tunc orders in a modification proceeding brought after J.A.'s probation period expired, when J.A. turned 18, should be vacated as void. J.A. further claims that, if this Court denies this petition, J.A. will have an inadequate remedy on appeal because the juvenile court may proceed on the State's petition to modify for the alleged violation of J.A.'s probationary terms, incarcerate J.A., and then the continuation of the modification action will be in the adult district court while the void orders would be from the juvenile court that no longer has jurisdiction.

         With his petition, J.A. also filed a motion to stay all proceedings pending this Court's disposition of this petition because J.A. could have been subject to additional void orders or incarceration. This Court's August 22, 2017 Order granted J.A.'s motion to stay and requested a response from the State.

         On September 11, 2017, the State filed its response, primarily contending that J.A. had an adequate appellate remedy for the nunc pro tunc judgment. The State also alleged that there was no abuse of discretion because the ...


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