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.•


  • 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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues