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COA judge issues 8-page criticism of trial court missteps

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a juvenile court’s order of restitution, stating the court failed to investigate the young man’s ability to pay, and that the damage amount could not be determined to be reasonable. Judge Melissa S. May agreed with the majority, but wrote an eight-page separate opinion stating that the trial court’s many errors – including the omission of key pieces of evidence – hampered the COA’s ability to perform its review of the case.

In J.H. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1005-JV-560, the state dropped a criminal mischief allegation when the juvenile defendant pleaded guilty to unlawful residential entry. The teen had tried to enter a neighbor’s home without permission and, in doing so, had damaged the door.

The neighbor had presented two estimates for repair – a first estimate of $1,000 and a second for $1,117.65. The estimates were not submitted to the defense, did not show the cost of materials and labor, and were not entered into evidence. The defense challenged the validity of the estimates and requested a dispositional hearing to question the first contractor about his estimate, but he did not appear for the hearing. The appeals court held the juvenile court failed to recognize that it is the state’s burden to prove the validity of the estimates.

In her separate opinion, Judge May wrote about the lack of completeness of the record. In a footnote, she wrote about the missing repair estimates: “If something is purported to be ‘evidence’ to establish an amount being claimed for restitution, the party seeking to use it should ensure it can be provided to the court and opposing counsel. Counsel presumably could have found a copy machine.”

She said the clerk had obviously failed to provide the documents necessary for the counsels to prepare their briefs. She also questioned why the victim’s impact statement – which had been scanned into the court’s case management system – was not part of the record on appeal.

In summary, Judge May wrote, “While I concur with the majority’s result, our decision must be read in light of the procedural missteps by trial counsel, the clerk, the trial court, and appellate counsel, as I have noted herein. These issues are not unique to this case, and are troubling when liberties are at stake.”

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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