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DOC wardship of juvenile delinquent affirmed

August 8, 2018

A 17-year-old adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent has failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn the Indiana Department of Correction’s wardship over him after failing to prove the case’s disposition constituted fundamental error.

After the state alleged that 17-year-old D.M. threw a cup of urine at a juvenile facility employee, a juvenile court found probable cause to support the state’s petition to adjudicate D.M. as a delinquent and accepted an admission agreement between the parties. The state and probation department recommended that D.M. be made a ward of the DOC, while the teen requested he be put on probation and be allowed to remain with his family.

The court then asked D.M.’s mother if she wanted to make a statement, but did not specifically ask D.M. if he wanted to speak. When his mother declined, the court granted wardship of D.M. to the DOC, and D.M. appealed in D.M. v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1711-JV-2708.

On appeal, D.M. argued his 14th Amendment due process rights were violated when he was not specifically asked if he wanted to address the court prior to the announcement of the disposition of the case. He argued the failure constituted fundamental error that warranted reversal, despite his failure to raise the issue with the juvenile court.

“We find it to be indisputable that the better practice in this case would have been for the juvenile court to have specifically asked D.M. if he wanted to make a statement before pronouncing disposition of the case,” Indiana Court of Appeals Senior Judge Carr Darden wrote Wednesday. “… However … (a)fter reviewing the arguments and recommendations of both parties, and taking into consideration the totality of the facts and circumstances herein, we cannot conclude that the juvenile court’s failure to specifically ask D.M. if he wanted to make a statement prior to disposition amounted to fundamental unfairness requiring reversal.”

Darden said that during the dispositional hearing, D.M.’s attorney “vigorously argued” for D.M. to be placed on probation, so he was not “substantially harmed by not being given an opportunity to personally address the court at the hearing.” Further, D.M. had an extensive juvenile record beginning when he was 13 years old, Darden said, so his allocution likely would not have persuaded the juvenile judge to release him. Plus, D.M.’s mother had told probation officers her son refused to comply with her curfews, so “the juvenile court had ample reason to conclude a placement less restrictive than the DOC would not succeed … .”

“We thus decline to apply the doctrine of fundamental error and/or fundamental fairness in considering D.M.’s due process claim,” Darden wrote. “On the other hand, we strongly encourage juvenile courts to take into consideration affording juvenile delinquents the opportunity to address the court before final disposition.”

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