By Joe Delamater
Charging juveniles as adults is a topic that has garnered media attention lately with a rash of gun-related deaths among teens. It’s also an area where we need to balance sympathy for the victims and for the minor offenders.
In order for a juvenile to be tried as an adult under typical circumstances, the State must request that the juvenile court waive its jurisdiction. Whether that is requested and ultimately granted depends on many things, including the age of the child and the type of crime. The court will hold an evidentiary hearing in order to determine whether the waiver of jurisdiction is appropriate.
However, for some crimes, the juvenile court simply does not have jurisdiction. When an offense listed in Indiana Code § 31-30-1-4 is committed by an individual sixteen or older, the adult courts have jurisdiction. These are typically referred to as “direct file” charges.
In determining whether a given crime is on the direct file list, I use a mnemonic: “guns, drugs and gangs.” If the crime is related to one of those areas, it’s worth looking at the statute to see whether it is listed. Not every crime on the list fits neatly under that mnemonic–it’s just my personal reference tool.
The “guns and gangs” crimes that can be directly filed are Attempted Murder, Murder, Kidnapping, Rape, Criminal Deviate Conduct, Robbery (with a deadly weapon or causing bodily injury), Carjacking, Criminal Gang Activity, Criminal Gang Intimidation, Carrying a Handgun Without a License (as a felony), Children and Firearms (as a felony), and Dealing in a Sawed-off Shotgun. The drug cases that are eligible are Manufacturing or Dealing in Cocaine or a Narcotic Drug, Dealing in Methamphetamine, Dealing in a Schedule I, II, III, or IV Controlled Substance, if and only if the individual has a prior unrelated conviction or juvenile adjudication for one of those same substance offenses.
This begs the question of why we allow children to be charged as adults and why the type of offense determines whether adult charges are filed? Those topics alone merit a more in-depth discussion than can be afforded here. However, the General Assembly has decided there is little distinction between a carjacker who commits the act two days before their eighteenth birthday and the one who waits until after. The inference is that the type of offense and its community impact outweighs certain rehabilitative programs afforded in juvenile court when the offender is moderately close to adulthood.
Also noteworthy are the crimes that are not given direct file treatment: Burglary, Arson, Human Trafficking (i.e. think of pimping or the movie Taken) Child Molesting, Strangulation and more. These are all crimes that go straight to juvenile court and can only move to adult court after a separate jurisdictional waiver process. For these serious offenses, the General Assembly left the juvenile court with the discretion to determine whether that child is beyond the rehabilitation of the juvenile justice system. While the juvenile court is not given that discretion for direct file crimes, this discretion does not disappear. Instead, it is shifted.
Whether to charge a child as an adult is discretionary and rests with the Prosecuting Attorney of your county. A prosecutor may opt to charge a lesser offense in order to keep the accused in juvenile court; the notion of potentially making a child a felon is not taken lightly. Consideration will be given to the marked sentencing disparities between adult and juvenile court. This difference is one of many considerations a prosecutor will evaluate in their deliberation in filing charges. Among others may be the child’s delinquency history, the nature of the offense, and the child’s character.
Juvenile courts exist to afford children an opportunity to receive the care, treatment and rehabilitation that they each deserve. The court assumes the role of parens patriae for each child within its jurisdiction. Acting as a parent, the juvenile courts must make tough calls in setting their “children” on the right path (and helping to ensure they stay on that path). Juvenile courts work to balance society’s interest in community safety and peacekeeping with the best interests of the child presented to them to “parent.” However, Hoosiers have decided that these particular crimes are so serious that the juvenile courts lose that discretion because the acts cross the thin line between the juvenile and adult justice systems. These serious crimes are when kids become adults.•