By Joe Delamater, Deputy Prosecutor, Juvenile Repeat Offender Unit, Marion County Prosecutor’s Office
Juvenile delinquency cases are unique. Hopefully, I can highlight some areas of delinquency law to help familiarize you with the system. Juvenile delinquency matters are no different than any other case. You are ready once you get over the new terminology and the case-by-case idiosyncrasies.
First know that, distinct from criminal courts, the juvenile court is your gatekeeper. Juvenile courts are required to assess what the best care, treatment and rehabilitation is for each child. The court decides whether charges are approved for filing or whether to afford the child an “informal adjustment,” which is akin to an adult diversion. The court decides whether a child is waived into adult court to face charges, whether commitment to the Department of Correction is appropriate, and how long the child stays on probation. All of this is decided in the best interests of the child and the community. Once you recognize how the court operates all of the rest falls in place around it.
Juvenile delinquency cases are civil. However, the Indiana Juvenile Code adopts the rules governing criminal procedures. IC § 31-32-1-1. Therefore, the burden of proof, trial rules, and rules of evidence that you know and love apply here. The juvenile code, specifically IC § 31-30, 31-32 and 31-37, are your juvenile bible. Know and love these sections because the juvenile code trumps any adopted provisions.
Because these cases are civil, many labels are different. Juveniles aren’t convicted; they are adjudicated delinquent. IC § 31-32-2-6. Therefore, enhancements based on prior convictions do not apply to juveniles. Moreover, juvenile courts enter a dispositional order and not a sentence. Like an adult pre-sentence investigation report (PSI), a pre-dispositional report is created by probation and is similar to the PSI. The accused are respondents and not defendants. The accused enters an admission or denial as they cannot be found “guilty or “not guilty.”
Another difference is the involvement of the probation department. It is completely statutory and rather thorough. IC § 31-31-5-4. Prior to the Initial Hearing, a probation officer (P.O.) performs a preliminary inquiry into various aspects of the child’s and family’s life. The depth of this will vary by county. In Marion County, at the Initial Hearing, a P.O. makes recommendations to the court regarding conditions of release based on their preliminary inquiry. The P.O. stays involved throughout the case and periodically reports back to the court. The P.O. will also make a recommendation at disposition.
Juvenile courts lacks jurisdiction for certain crimes although committed by juveniles. IC § 31-30-1-4. Know that, if your client is sixteen or seventeen, there are a number of crimes that may be filed in adult court. The State can also seek “waiver” and request that a juvenile be tried as an adult when they reach a certain age (this varies by the type of allegation.) Waiver can be requested on any felony under five possible sections. Under Indiana Code §§ 31-30-3-2 through 31-30-3-6, the juvenile court must find both probable cause and that it would be in the “best interests of the child and of the safety and welfare of the community” to be tried as an adult. Sections 4, 5 and 6 are mandatory waiver sections with a presumption of those “best interests” that must be rebutted by the respondent. Sections 2 and 3 are discretionary with part of the State’s burden being to prove the best interests.
Juvenile court has the ability to maintain jurisdiction until the child reaches the age of twenty-one unless sooner discharged. Therefore, juveniles are on probation for as long as the court deems appropriate. There are no orders of “six months” here or “eighteen months” there.
The term of probation lasts until the court feels that the juvenile has been adequately treated and rehabilitated. Remember, the court is the gatekeeper.
Treatment and programs range from nothing (time-served is the adult terminology) up to being committed to the Indiana Department of Correction (to be placed at a juvenile-only facility.) In between those extremes come a variety of services that will vary county to county. The services will attempt to address parts of the juvenile’s life that need help. It could be substance abuse treatment, counseling and therapy, education, and any other area that is felt will help rehabilitate the child. These goals can be accomplished from in-home treatment, community-based services, or secured treatment facilities.
While only a cursory review of the system, hopefully this helps give you the basics of delinquency matters.•