Truant teens win appeals challenge to sanctions under municipal
Circuit courts must issue written dispositional orders that list
conditions imposed for violations of municipal truancy ordinances.
Imposing sanctions orally is not enough.
By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer,
State Bar of Wisconsin
Jan. 25, 2012 – A
state appeals court recently clarified the proper procedure for
sanctioning juveniles who violate conditions imposed for skipping
school, reversing the sanctions imposed against two teenagers who played
hooky repeatedly in Appleton.
In 2010, the Appleton juveniles were cited for first-offense truancy
under a city ordinance that prohibits students from missing all or any
part of a school day without an acceptable excuse. The ordinance
subjects students to a $50 fine and probationary status.
Wisconsin’s Juvenile Justice Code, Wis. Stat. ch.
938, governs municipal truancy law and procedure. Under Wis. Stat. section 938.355,
the court must issue a written dispositional order stating the
conditions with which the juvenile must comply for violating the
In this case, the Outagamie County
Circuit Court did not issue final dispositional orders stating the
conditions imposed. Instead, the court made oral rulings memorialized
Both teens failed to comply with the conditions imposed by the court
through its oral rulings, including an order to maintain perfect
attendance and pay the fine or do community service.
Under Wis. Stat. section 938.355(6m)(ag), a court may
impose numerous sanctions for violating a final dispositional order
relating to truancy citations, including fines up to $500, home
detention, and loss of vehicle operating privileges, among others.
At sanctions hearings, the court imposed thirty-day home detention with
electronic monitoring for noncompliance. Both teens served the sanction
imposed but appealed, noting the appeal is not moot because the same
issue is “capable of repetition and yet evades review.”
In the consolidated cases of State
v. Dylan S.
v. Renee B., 2011AP1338-39
(Jan. 24, 2012), the District III Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that
the circuit court improperly sanctioned the teens and reversed the
Dylan and Renee “contend that the court lacked statutory
authority to sanction them because the court never entered written
dispositional orders that could serve as a basis for sanctions. We
agree,” wrote Deputy Chief Judge Gregory Peterson.
The appeals court rejected the state’s argument that
“minutes sheets” can serve as dispositional orders. “A
minutes sheet is not a court order,” Judge Peterson explained,
noting that the circuit court judge did not sign the minute sheet and
court orders must be signed.
The appeals court also rejected the argument that the teenagers could
not appeal because they did not object to the minute sheets as proper
“[T]he forfeiture rule is one of judicial administration, and
appellate courts have the authority to ignore a forfeiture when a case
presents an important recurring issue. This case presents an important
recurring issue and therefore merits a decision,” wrote Judge
Other issues of significant public interest
Attempting to further clarify law and procedure under the Juvenile
Justice Code, the court ruled that it was error for the circuit court to
order electronic monitoring.
Dylan and Renee “correctly note that the statutes contain a list
of permitted sanctions, and electronic monitoring is not one of
them,” the court explained.
The appeals court also concluded that the circuit court was required to
disqualify itself from the sanctions hearing in Renee B’s case,
because the circuit court requested the hearing.
Wis. Stat. section 938.355(6m)(b) allows district attorneys, corporation
counsel, or the court that entered the dispositional order to file a
motion for sanctions in truancy cases. But “[i]f the court
initiates the motion, that court is disqualified from holding a hearing
on the motion.”