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COA upholds admission of fingerprint evidence in delinquency case

April 9, 2018

A Marion County teen will retain his delinquent adjudications for felony theft and robbery after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined the trial court properly admitted fingerprint evidence tying the teen to the crimes in question.

In K.K. v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1710-JV-2274, Jesus Morales returned to his Marion County home in November 2016 and found it in disarray, with jewelry, a television and electronic gaming systems missing. After the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department recovered fingerprints from the scene, a search of Indiana’s statewide fingerprint database identified the prints as belonging to 16-year-old K.K.

The state filed a delinquency petition against K.K., alleging he had committed acts that would be Level 4 felony burglary and Level 6 felony theft if committed by an adult. At a subsequent denial hearing, K.K. objected to the admission of fingerprint evidence made after the petition was filed, arguing the prints found in the database were illegally obtained and retained. He based his objection on IMPD testimony that its latent print examiner had “absolutely no knowledge” as to why K.K. was originally printed and entered into the database. 

The Marion Superior Court denied K.K.’s motion and admitted the prints, then entered true findings on both counts against him. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld his adjudication in a Monday opinion, with Judge Terry Crone writing that K.K. did not dispute that the prints made after the petition was filed — known as Exhibit 12 — were made in accordance with the applicable statutes.

Instead, the court likened K.K.’s case to that of based J.B. v. State, 868 N.E.2d 1197 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), in which the state stored juvenile and adult fingerprint records together in possible noncompliance with Indiana Code section 31-39-5-2. The appellate court did not overturn J.B.’s adjudication because the person who located his prints in the stored space was authorized to access juvenile records. However, the court noted the burden was on the state prove that person was authorized to access his prints, and that all unauthorized persons would not gain access to them.

But similar circumstances were not present in K.K.’s case, Crone said, which made his adjudications appropriate.

“Here, K.K. has not come forward with any evidence that the state actually violated the Juvenile Fingerprinting Statutes in some respect and there are no circumstances that call into question the State’s compliance with the Statutes,” Crone said. “Accordingly, we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in admitting Exhibit 12… .”

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