Judicial estoppel does not apply to juvenile delinquency proceedings, COA rules

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A teen who argued that the rationale for applying judicial estoppel against the state in criminal proceedings should not apply in juvenile delinquency proceedings lost his appeal Monday before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

In T.S. v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1410-JV-739, T.S. challenged true findings he committed what would be Class B felony robbery and Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license if committed by an adult. Police stopped a car in which T.S. was a passenger after receiving a call of a robbery in an Indianapolis parking lot. T.S.’s cousin, Leethanel Smith, ran from the car after it stopped but was caught by police.

Smith pleaded guilty to the crime and said he was the one who robbed the victim in the store parking lot. The car belonged to T.S.’s mother along with a gun found in it that had T.S.’s fingerprint on it. Smith lived with T.S.’s family.

At T.S.’s hearing, Smith said T.S. had no knowledge that he was going to rob someone. The state pointed out inconsistencies with Smith’s testimony as to how the robbery occurred and the victim’s testimony.

T.S. argued on appeal that the state, based on judicial estoppel, should not have been allowed to argue that Smith was dishonest about the teen’s involvement in the robbery.

“We find, however, that the rationale for not applying judicial estoppel against the State in criminal proceedings applies equally in the context of juvenile-delinquency proceedings. Therefore, accepting a plea agreement from Leethanel based on one theory of the case and pursuing a delinquency adjudication against T.S. in a separate action based on an alternate theory cannot be construed as playing fast and loose with the courts,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “Moreover, applying judicial estoppel to juvenile-delinquency proceedings but not criminal proceedings would be illogical. That is, a juvenile would be immunized against an adjudication based on an adult defendant’s conviction, but there would be no correlating immunization if the juvenile was convicted first. Thus, we find that judicial estoppel does not apply to juvenile-delinquency proceedings for the same reasons that it does not apply to criminal proceedings.”

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