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Divided COA upholds absentee juvenile delinquent adjudications

January 11, 2018

A divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld additional delinquency adjudications and findings of probation violations against a Lawrence County teen after determining the teen was in procedural default when he failed to appear for his fact-finding hearings. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, however, dissented on statutory grounds.

In September 2014, R.R. admitted to being a juvenile delinquent for committing what would be Class 5 misdemeanor criminal mischief if committed by an adult, and he was placed on supervised probation for one year. After his release from the Southwest Indiana Regional Youth Village in June 2016, R.R. was ordered to serve an additional six months of supervised probation.

Then in September 2016, the state alleged R.R. was a delinquent for committing new offenses including auto theft and false informing. The trial court later granted the state’s request to take R.R. into custody, but he remained at large for more than two months and failed to appear at factfinding hearings related to the new allegations against him.

R.R.’s counsel, who was present alongside his mother, objected to holding the hearing without R.R., but the Lawrence Circuit Court allowed the hearing to proceed because R.R.’s whereabouts were unknown. The court then entered true findings on the allegations against R.R. and on violations of his probation.

When R.R. was finally detained in March 2017, he told the trial court he had been hanging out at the Bedford Boys Home, but offered no reason for his failure to appear at the fact-finding hearing. The court then awarded wardship of R.R. to the Department of Correction, and he appealed in R.R. v. State of Indiana, 47A04-1705-JV-944.

R.R. argued on appeal that the trial court violated his constitutional right to be present at the factfinding hearings by holding them in his absence. While the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed that such a constitutional right exists, the majority held that under the circumstances of R.R.’s case, the trial court was justified in holding the hearings without him.

Judge Terry Crone, writing for the majority, noted R.R. was present when the fact-finding hearings were scheduled, yet at the same time was not complying with his probationary requirements. Crone also pointed to his mother’s testimony that R.R. “took off” when she tried to take him to an appointment one week before the hearings, and did not return to his mother’s home during the ensuing week.

Thus, R.R.’s absences from the fact-finding hearings was knowing and voluntary, the majority joined by Judge Paul Mathias found. His absence also constituted a default on a court-ordered obligation to appear, they said.

But Vaidik dissented on the issue of R.R.’s default, writing that Indiana Code section 31-32-5-1 sets out certain factors that must be met for a juvenile to waive constitutional rights. Those factors were not met here, she said, so she would reverse the juvenile court and remand for further proceedings.

“At the end of the day, this is the call of our legislature, and if this is not what they intended (as my colleagues believe), then ‘(a)ny change must … fall to the legislature’s corrective pen,’” Vaidik wrote, quoting Calvin v. State, No. 02S03-1709-CR-611 (Ind. Dec. 21, 2017).

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