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COA finds fundamental error in juvenile case, again

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In a case identical to one it ruled on earlier this year, the Indiana Court of Appeals today found the state violated a juvenile’s right to counsel at her detention hearing.

Juvenile A.S. was detained in October 2008 on suspicion of battery. At her detention hearing the next day, no witnesses were sworn in and no evidence was heard. She and her mother signed a document that the trial court apparently treated as a waiver to a number of rights, including A.S.’s right to counsel. The magistrate never asked if A.S. wanted legal representation or counsel appointed, nor did the magistrate inform her of the burdens of proceeding pro se.

A.S. had been in trouble before and at that time, she and her mother signed the same waiver. In A.S. v. State, 923 N.E.2d 486, 488 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), the appellate court ruled A.S.’s alleged waiver of counsel was invalid. She had moved for relief from judgment finding her to be delinquent because she had been adjudicated without counsel and without waiving her right to counsel.

The Court of Appeals found the latest waiver A.S. signed also didn’t comport with constitutional requirements. A.S. was appealing in the instant case that she was denied certain rights at her initial detention hearing, she shouldn’t have been adjudicated as a delinquent because her hearing didn’t take place within 60 days, and she wasn’t tried by a jury.

The state argued against the appellate court addressing the merits of the violation because A.S. didn’t raise the claim and it’s moot because she’s no longer detained.  

The Court of Appeals in A.S. v. State of Indiana, No. 10A01-0908-JV-423, ruled A.S.’s constitutional claim wasn’t waived due to fundamental error because she was not adequately informed of her right to counsel. The appellate judges decided to consider A.S.’s constitutional right because it reflects a question of great public importance and the issue is likely to recur. They found her initial detention was improper because the court didn’t get a constitutionally sufficient waiver of counsel from her and didn’t allow her to present evidence or confront witnesses.

The judges rejected her argument that her hearing didn’t happen within the required 60 days. Her hearing happened 90 days after she was initially detained. Every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday during that period should be excluded from calculation, which then puts A.S.’s hearing held within the 60-day period. In addition, A.S. did not have a right to trial by jury.
 

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