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Juvenile reversal sets new conditional admissions standard

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A Court of Appeals panel on Tuesday reversed a ruling in a juvenile case and set a new standard for how juvenile judges must handle conditional admission agreements when probable cause is disputed.

C.B., an 11-year-old girl, entered into a conditional admission agreement in which she admitted to what would have been Class A misdemeanor battery if committed by an adult for striking younger children. The state dropped a separate delinquency petition. If she didn’t reoffend within 90 days, C.B.’s remaining petition also would be dismissed. If she violated the agreement, her case would move immediately to disposition.

When the state filed probable cause for another alleged instance of battery, witnesses to that alleged offense could not attend the hearing, so the state dropped the petition. The trial court nevertheless moved to disposition, which the Court of Appeals ruled was error.
 
“We conclude that before a juvenile court can determine that a conditional admission agreement has failed based upon probable cause that a new offense has been committed, the juvenile court must independently find probable cause instead of merely relying on the probable cause finding that authorized the filing of the delinquency petition,” the majority ruled in C.B. v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1207-JV-379.

“Additionally, a juvenile must be given a meaningful opportunity to challenge the existence of probable cause. Here, because the juvenile court relied solely on the finding of the probable cause that supported the filing of the new delinquency petition, and C.B. was not given a meaningful opportunity to challenge probable cause, we reverse.

“The only evidence presented indicated that the incident did not occur. To be clear, we are not saying that anytime a juvenile presents evidence that tends to negate probable cause, a juvenile court must grant a motion to reconsider probable cause,” Judge John Baker wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Patricia Riley. “However, under these facts and circumstances where the only evidence indicates a lack of probable cause, it is error to deny a motion to reconsider probable cause.”

Judge Michael Barnes concurred in a separate opinion that said the facts of C.B.’s case should be considered without imposing such broad conditions. “I think the language used by the majority could be construed too broadly. I respectfully believe we must be careful not to overreach and that we should limit our holding to the particular facts of this case,” Barnes wrote.
 

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