Justices reduce delinquency adjudication lacking evidence

March 12, 2018

The Indiana Supreme Court on Friday reduced the juvenile delinquency adjudication of a minor who threw a brick through a car window, finding the state failed to prove the act of criminal mischief resulted in damages of $750 or more.

Justices issued the 3-page per curium opinion hours after hearing oral argument in T.H. v. State of Indiana, 18S-JV-80. T.H.’s mother witnessed the child’s act of vandalism in Indianapolis and reported it to police. T.H. was charged with Class A misdemeanor criminal recklessness for an act that caused property damage of more than $750, and he was so adjudicated in the juvenile court.

T.H. appealed, and a divided Court of Appeals panel affirmed the delinquency adjudication, but ordered it reduced. The panel found that the state had not provided sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the damaged Toyota would cost at least $750 to repair. Dissenting Judge Cale Bradford would have affirmed the juvenile court, writing that in its role as the trier-of-fact, it could choose which evidence to credit.

The justices on Friday agreed with the COA majority. The court cited Shutt v. State, 267 Ind. 110, 114, 367 N.E.2d 1376, 1378 (1977): “If the inference drawn by the trier of facts must rest upon speculation or conjecture, it cannot be drawn beyond a reasonable doubt, and we are required to set it aside.”

That was the case in T.H., where the state’s Exhibit 1, a written repair estimate that both the COA and the Supreme Court found questionable.

“The State acknowledges that the adequacy of its proof of the amount of loss depends on State’s Exhibit 1. Considering the exhibit’s multiple unexplained anomalies, we agree with T.H. that no reasonable fact-finder could find the element of loss of at least $750 proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, T.H.’s adjudication as a delinquent is affirmed, but we remand the case to the trial court to modify its records to show T.H. committed an act that would be criminal mischief as a Class B misdemeanor.”   


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