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Court reverses indeterminate commitment of juvenile

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The Indiana Court of Appeals addressed the interplay between sections 6 and 10 of Indiana Code 31-37-19 governing juvenile commitment for the first time today. The judges noted when they are applied separately the sections produce opposite results regarding the purpose of the statutes.   

D.C. pleaded guilty to what would have been Class A felony burglary if committed by an adult and was committed to the Department of Correction for 24 months and also was ordered to an indeterminate commitment to the DOC until he turned 21. He was 14 years old when he committed the crime. He argued that the court erred by imposing both a determinate and indeterminate commitment, and that he should have been placed in a less restrictive facility because one was available.

The judges didn’t find the trial court erred in ordering D.C. committed to the DOC even though he had been accepted into another facility because he had a history of adjudications, and stayed at residential facilities in the past. He always re-offended once being released.

“Given the serious nature of D.C.’s offense and the likelihood that he will reoffend, this is clearly a situation in which commitment to a less restrictive environment than DOC is not in the best interest of D.C. or of the community,” wrote Judge Margret Robb.

In D.C. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1002-JV-100, the judges then examined the statutes at question here – I.C. 31-37-19-6 and -10 that deal with dispositional decrees for children found to be delinquent for committing an act that would be an offense if committed by an adult.

Section 6 says except as provided in Section 10, the court awards wardship of a juvenile to the DOC and the DOC determines the placement and duration of placement. Section 10 applies to D.C. because he was at least 14 when he committed the Class A felony burglary and has prior unrelated adjudications. Section 10 says the court can’t place a child in a facility for more than 2 years.

The judges agreed with D.C. that Section 6 precludes a juvenile court from entering a dispositional order with both an indeterminate commitment under Section 6 and a determinant commitment under Section 10.

Judge Robb noted that Section 10 is clearly aimed at the most serious juvenile offenders, yet it’s possible that someone who offends under Section 6 may be placed in a facility for a time longer than the 2 years ordered under Section 10.  

“We acknowledge a juvenile committed under Section 6 could also be released in less than two years and therefore ultimately receive a lesser penalty than a juvenile sentenced under Section 10. However, at their extremes, sections 6 and 10 when applied separately produce results antithetical to the purpose of the statutes,” she wrote.

The Court of Appeals reversed the part of the dispositional order imposing commitments under both sections and remanded for a new order imposing only a determinate commitment under Section 10.
 

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