Absent juvenile did not waive rights, split Supreme Court rules

The Indiana Supreme Court split over whether a juvenile waived his right to be present when he skipped his hearing, but the justices came together in calling for a legislative remedy. Justices in a 3-2 decision reversed the teen’s juvenile delinquency adjudication.

A fact-finding hearing was convened for R.R., who was charged with violating the terms of his probation and committing auto theft and false informing. However, he did not appear, and his mother told the Lawrence Circuit Court she did not know where he was.

Despite the objections of R.R.’s counsel, the court continued the proceedings, finding R.R. violated his probation and adjudicating him a delinquent for auto theft and false informing.   

About two months later, R.R. was detained by police and the court made him a ward of the Indiana Department of Correction. He appealed, arguing he had a constitutional right to appear at his fact-finding hearing and the court violated that right by holding the hearing in his absence.

A split Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that adopting R.R.’s interpretation would allow juveniles to “hijack trial court dockets and avoid responsibility for their delinquent behavior by knowingly and voluntarily (and repeatedly) refusing to appear at factfinding hearings.”

But the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s delinquency determination and remanded for further proceedings. Justice Steven David wrote a dissent in R.R. v. State of Indiana, 18S-JV-230, which Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Mark Massa joined in part.

Writing for the majority, Justice Goeffrey Slaughter asserted that Indiana’s juvenile waiver-of-rights statute, Indiana Code 31-6-7-3, does not allow for either his counsel, parent or himself to waive his right to be present at a fact-finding hearing.

Slaughter also downplayed the Court of Appeals’ finding that the juvenile-waiver statute could lead to unintended consequences. He also contended that applying a judicial fix would intrude too much into legislative territory.

“But even were we to conclude that no reasonable legislator could have intended that a no-show teenager would avoid waiver by resorting to such litigation gamesmanship, the judicial fix would not be modest,” Slaughter wrote. “It would require courts to rewrite the statute by adding a substantive ‘fourth’ waiver option the legislature did not enact.”

In his dissent, David argued holding the hearing in R.R.’s absence was a “just outcome.” The juvenile had presumably run away, a pick-up order for him had been issued, he was nearly 18 and had great familiarity with the justice system, so, David cotended, R.R. had waived his right to be present at his hearing.

However, he did note the Indiana General Assembly should act.

 “I urge our legislature to consider amending the statute to give trial court judges some discretion in situations where the juvenile is absent,” David wrote. “That is, the statute should allow for knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver by a juvenile who is aware of upcoming proceedings but chooses to be absent with no adequate explanation.”

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