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AGO 1975 No. 14 - July 03, 1975
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COURTS ‑- JUVENILE ‑- CRIMES ‑- OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES ‑- JURISDICTION OF DEPARTMENT OVER DELINQUENT JUVENILES UPON ATTAINMENT OF AGE EIGHTEEN

Except where covered by a juvenile court order under § 1, chapter 170, Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess., in the case of a juvenile in the custody of the department of social and health services who was not yet 18 when that law became effective, a juvenile who has been adjudged to be a delinquent child under RCW 13.04.010, et seq., and has therefore been committed by the juvenile court under RCW 13.04.095, may not, in view of In re Carson, 84 Wn.2d 969 (1975), continue to be held in custody solely on that basis after attaining the age of 18 years.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                     July 3, 1975

Honorable Charles R. Morris
Secretary, Department of Social
and Health Services
P.O. Box 1788
Olympia, Washington 98504

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1975 No. 14

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            In view of the Washington Supreme Court's decision in In re Carson, 84 Wn.2d 969 (1975), may a juvenile who has been committed to the custody of the department of social and health services as a delinquent child pursuant to RCW 13.04.095 continue to be held in custody solely on that basis after attaining the age of 18 years?

            For the reasons set forth in our analysis, we answer this question in the negative except as qualified with respect to cases covered by chapter 174, Laws of 1975, Ex. Sess.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            In re Carson,supra, involved a young girl who had sometime  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] previously, when 17 years of age, been declared to be a dependent incorrigible by the Ferry county juvenile court pursuant to RCW 13.04.010(7).1/   Because of that finding she was made a ward of the state and was committed to the division of institutions of the state department of social and health services pursuant to RCW 13.04.190.2/   On December 6, 1973, she attained age 18 and was subsequently granted a furlough from Maple Lane School (an institution under the supervision of the state) but did not return on schedule.  Instead, she instituted suit to have the juvenile court show cause why its wardship over her should not be terminated because of her then existing age.

            As stated by the supreme court at the beginning of its opinion, the legal issue raised by the case thus was:

            ". . . whether an individual committed to the Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Institutions, as  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] a dependent incorrigible by the juvenile court while under the age of 18 is subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the juvenile court and the Division of Institutions after attaining age 18."

            In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Finley, the court answered this question in the negative.  In so ruling the court relied on two basic points:  (1) juvenile court jurisdiction extends only over minors; and (2) the age of majority vis-a-vis juvenile court jurisdiction is now 18.  The basis for this latter premise was RCW 26.28.010 which, as amended by § 1, chapter 292, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., provides that:

            "Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age for all purposes at the age of eighteen years."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In opposing the result thus reached the state had asserted that the necessary "specific provision" to the contrary was to be found in RCW 13.04.095, which reads, in material part, as follows:

            "When any child shall be found to be delinquent or dependent, within the meaning of this chapter, the court shall make such order for the care, custody, or commitment of the child as the child's welfare in the interest of the state require.  Subject to further order, the court may commit the child:

            ". . .

            "(6) To the department of institutions if the court finds such child to be delinquent, or a dependent child whose dependency arises from incorrigibility as defined by RCW 13.04.010(7).

            "In no case shall a child be committed beyond the age of twenty-one years. . . ."  (Court's emphasis.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            In rejecting this argument, however, the court said:

            "We are convinced that the italicized negative language is too remote in terms of time of enactment and viability to be considered as an exception 'specifically provided by law' to the main thrust of RCW 26.28.010.  That main thrust is that 'all persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age for all purposes at the age of eighteen years. . . .'"  (Court's emphasis.)

            Then, responding to the state's further argument that majority age should be construed to be significant only with regard to the parent/child relationship and not as to the state/child relationship, the court had this to say:

            ". . . the simple effect of commitment by the juvenile court is to put the Statein the place of the parent.  Thus, attainment of majority has the same impact upon the State as it does upon the parent.  In both cases, authority over the individual ceases at the age of 18."  (Court's emphasis.)

            In effect, the court thus held RCW 13.04.095, supra, to have been amended by implication ‑ from being a statute expressly permitting a juvenile's commitment to continue until age 21 to one allowing such a commitment only until age 18.  Accord,In re Burtts, 12 Wn.App. 564 (1975), at p. 568, where the court of appeals expressly so observed.

            Although theCarson case dealt, specifically, with a dependent incorrigible, it is clear that the jurisdiction of a juvenile court over a delinquent child3/ is derived from precisely the  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] same source as is its jurisdiction over a dependent child.  See, RCW 13.04.095,supra.  Thus, althoughCarson by its terms dealt with a dependent incorrigible, the decision is equally applicable to the question of jurisdiction over and custody of delinquent children.

            Likewise, although the case dealt, specifically, with juvenile court jurisdiction, it is equally clear that departmental authority over a juvenile derives from such court jurisdiction and the accompanying juvenile court order of commitment.  To conclude otherwise would be to read the decision of the supreme court as resulting in an absurdity ‑ meaning that a juvenile properly committed before age 18 could be held by the department even after attaining that age but that no judicial authority could compel his or her return to custody should he or she run away from the institution where confined or simply refuse to return from furlough as in the case of Ms. Carson herself.

            There remains only to be considered the impact of certain legislation which was enacted following our receipt of your opinion request.  By its enactment of § 1, chapter 170, Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess. (House Bill No. 763), which became effective on June 4, 1975, when signed by the governor,4/ the legislature has now provided as follows:

            "In no case shall a delinquent juvenile be committed by the juvenile court to the department of social and health services for placement in a juvenile correctional institution beyond the child's twenty-first birthday.  A delinquent juvenile shall be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court or the authority of the department of social and health services beyond the child's eighteenth birthday only if the juvenile court has, prior to the juvenile's eighteenth birthday, found the juvenile to be delinquent and has extended the jurisdiction beyond the child's eighteenth birthday by written order setting forth its reasons therefor.

            "In no event shall the juvenile court have  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] authority to extend jurisdiction over any delinquent juvenile beyond the juvenile's twenty-first birthday."

            By its own terms, however, this new statute only purports to deal with delinquent juveniles (including those in the custody of the department of social and health services) who, as of its effective date, had not yet reached the age of 18.  Members of this class of juveniles appear now to be subject to the possibility of either an initial or a further court order extending departmental authority over them until the age of 21.5/   On the other hand, the statute does not appear to have any application to those persons in the custody of the department as delinquent children who were already 18 when it went into effect.

            Therefore, in summary, our answer to your question is as follows:  Except where covered by a juvenile court order under § 1, chapter 170, Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess., in the case of a juvenile in the custody of the department of social and health services who was not yet 18 when that law became effective, a juvenile who has been adjudged to be a delinquent child under RCW 13.04.010, et seq., and has therefore been committed by the juvenile court under RCW 13.04.095, may not, in view of In re Carson,supra, continue to be held in custody solely on that basis after attaining the age of 18 years.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,


SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


THOMAS W. HAYTON
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/"For the purpose of this chapter the words 'dependent child' shall mean any child under the age of eighteen years:

            ". . .

            "(7) Who is incorrigible; that is, who is beyond the control and power of his parents, guardian, or custodian by reason of the conduct or nature of said child; . . ."

2/"Any boy or girl between the ages of eight and eighteen years who has been found delinquent by the juvenile court may be committed by the juvenile court to the department of institutions, for institutional placement in such reception diagnostic center, or other juvenile correctional facility under the supervision of the department of institutions as shall be designated by the director of the department of institutions: . . ."

3/RCW 13.04.010 defines this term as follows:

            "The words 'delinquent child' mean any child under the age of eighteen years who violates any law of this state, or any ordinance of any town, city, or county of this state defining a crime or who has violated any federal law or law of another state defining a crime, and whose case has been referred to the juvenile court by any jurisdiction whatsoever."

4/Accord, the emergency clause appearing in § 2.

5/Though it is beyond the scope of this opinion to delve into the procedural problems which might be involved in obtaining the kind of order thus contemplated, the department may choose to advise the appropriate county prosecuting attorney and the committing juvenile court of persons in its custody as delinquents who are still under the age of 18 together with its recommendations as to the desirability of extending departmental custody beyond such age.

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