Juvenile entitled to separate hearing

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a juvenile court judgment after ruling the court improperly incorporated the record of a child hearsay hearing into the fact-finding hearing.

In L.H. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-0701-JV-45, L.H. appealed his conviction in juvenile court of child molesting, a Class C felony if committed by an adult, and battery, a Class B misdemeanor if committed by an adult. In 2006, the then 12-year-old was accused of inappropriately touching his 8-year-old cousin, A.H., over the course of four years. A.H. was taken to the Child Advocacy Center where a videotaped interview about these allegations took place.

A fact-finding hearing on the child molesting and battery charges was scheduled for November 2006. Prior to that hearing, the state filed a Child Hearsay Notice to notify L.H. it planned to introduce out-of-court statements by A.H., including the videotaped interview, and requested a hearing for determining the admissibility of this evidence pursuant to Indiana Code 35-37-4-6.

At the November hearing, the state introduced evidence, including the videotaped interview. Both the state and L.H. referred to the hearing at several points as the child hearsay hearing. The state moved for the admissibility of the hearsay statements presented during the hearing and to incorporate all the testimony and evidence entered. L.H. objected and the court granted the state's motions. It then invited arguments for the fact-finding portion of the hearing and made true findings on the child molesting and battery allegations.

L.H. appealed the juvenile court finding, contending the requirements of the child hearsay statute were not met and that incorporation denied him a fair trial.

The appellate court found there was no agreement between the two parties to incorporate, and L.H. objected several times to the incorporation. L.H. was entitled to have a fact-finding hearing at which procedural safeguards and evidentiary rules are observed, wrote Judge Margret Robb, and incorporating the testimony from a preliminary hearing on an evidentiary matter denied L.H. the hearing to which he is entitled. The majority of judges reversed the juvenile court's true findings and remanded for a fact-finding hearing.

Judge James Kirsch dissented, ruling L.H. failed to show he was prejudiced from the court incorporation of evidence from the child hearsay hearing into the fact-finding hearing. Judge Kirsch wrote he didn't see any procedural safeguards or evidentiary rules that weren't followed, and L.H. didn't bring any up in his brief. He wrote he would affirm the trial court in all respects.

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