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Court: Rehabilitation evaluation a must

December 17, 2008

The Indiana Supreme Court says that before any juvenile can be placed on the state's sex offender registry, a trial court must first evaluate whether that minor has been rehabilitated to determine if there's clear and convincing evidence he or she might re-offend.

A Marion Superior magistrate didn't do that and on Tuesday, justices reversed the lower court's decision requiring a then-14-year-old boy to register as a sex offender. The eight-page ruling came on a petition to transfer in J.C.C. v. State, No. 49S02-0803-JV-143.

During a year's incarceration at the Indiana Boys' School in 2000 for a series of nine child molesting offenses with younger boys, the juvenile referred to as J.C.C. completed a sex offender treatment program and was released. The state petitioned that the juvenile register as a sex offender and the trial court ordered that registry.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, J.C.C. argued that the state didn't show clear and convincing evidence that he is likely to re-offend, and that the trial court should not have denied his Trial Rule 60(B) claim to set aside the adjudications. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that a certified juvenile sex offender counselor adequately conducted an assessment that showed J.C.C. was a high risk for re-offending despite his completion of the treatment program.

But the justices disagreed, pointing out that the counselor's only evaluation of J.C.C. was prior to the juvenile's placement in the Department of Correction and treatment program.

"Though such an interview is not required, the expert's testimony or other evidence must analyze whether the juvenile has been rehabilitated subsequent to disposition," Justice Frank Sullivan wrote for the court. "That did not occur in this case. Without such evidence, we cannot conclude that there was clear and convincing evidence that J.C.C. is likely to commit another sex offense."

The court's analysis is grounded in specific provisions of Indiana's juvenile sex offender registry statute and the general purpose of the juvenile code, Justice Sullivan wrote. An evidentiary hearing is required to determine if a minor is likely to be a repeat sex offender, but when a juvenile is placed within detention or prison, that registry hearing can't be held until after the juvenile is released. As a result, the court determined that the legislative intent is to wait on a sex offender registration determination until that juvenile has the chance to be rehabilitated during detention.

"In addition to the specific provisions of the statute we have been exploring, we also find it highly relevant.... That the Legislature has articulated that guiding policy of this State and the purpose behind Indiana's juvenile justice system is to 'ensure that children within the juvenile justice system are treated as persons in need of care, protection, treatment, and rehabilitation,'" Justice Sullivan wrote. "This policy is consistent with the State's primary interest in rehabilitation, rather than punishment of juvenile delinquents."

Justices vacated the appellate court's order except for the portion addressing the Trial Rule 60(B) claim to set aside adjudications.

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