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IBA: When Kids Become Adults

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By Joe Delamater
 

delamater-joe.jpg 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.•

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  • Well written, begs more information
    I enjoyed this, but wonder about the recidivism data associated with the varying ways these cases are handled. I also suspect an astute lawyer for the defense might manipulate the state by encouraging a client to appear more juvenile and remorseful than recalcitrant and adult. Should law be so subjective?! We all know that gangs have used little children to run drugs and weapons, to commit murder, etc., since the child will not be prosecuted as an adult. Kids know they don't want to be murdered, so by default they know what they are doing is very serious and bad. At what age does that adult-line blur, especially given how fast kids grow up these days, with access to the internet, super-violent movies, and other media that potentially dull the emotional impact of their transgressions. Do the ages drop over time, as the times change? How young can a life sentence be applied? How have statistics shown the ages of these serious offenders to be trending over the past few decades?

    My take-away is that there is a judgement being made by the state on many cases as to whether a crime is prosecuted as juvenile or adult, and that many serious crimes still default to juvenile court. If my family member was a victim , I might not like hearing that the state opted for Juvenile court based on the idea that the assailant "might" be rehabilitate-able.

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  1. Welcome to Hendricks County where local and state statutes (especially Indiana Class C misdemeanors) are given a higher consideration than Federal statues and active duty military call-ups.

  2. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  3. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  4. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  5. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

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