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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. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  2. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  3. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

  4. My dear Smith, I was beginning to fear, from your absense, that some Obrien of the Nanny State had you in Room 101. So glad to see you back and speaking truth to power, old chum.

  5. here is one from Reason magazine. these are not my words, but they are legitimate concerns. http://reason.com/blog/2010/03/03/fearmongering-at-the-splc quote: "The Southern Poverty Law Center, which would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds, has issued a new "intelligence report" announcing that "an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) -- a 244% jump." To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn't demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely. As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible." --- I wonder if all the republicans that belong to the ISBA would like to know who and why this outfit was called upon to receive such accolades. I remember when they were off calling Trent Lott a bigot too. Preposterous that this man was brought to an overwhelmingly republican state to speak. This is a nakedly partisan institution and it was a seriously bad choice.

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