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Juvenile’s placement in DOC for firing gun affirmed

September 19, 2018

A troubled Elkhart County juvenile who was adjudicated delinquent after firing a handgun failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that he was wrongly committed to the Department of Correction.

C.S., Jr. admitted in December 2017 to committing what would be Class A misdemeanor dangerous possession of a firearm if committed by an adult. Elkhart police arrested him after officers encountered him while responding to reports of a gunshot. According to the record, the boy turned his back on officers, removed a handgun from his waistband, and placed it on the ground. Police also found a spent shell casing and a live round matching the gun nearby.

The juvenile court made C.S. a temporary ward of the DOC for a diagnostic evaluation, after which residential placement was recommended. “The psychologist opined that C.S., Jr. required more structured monitoring than home-based services could provide given his recent suicide attempt and ‘rather violent history,’” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote for the panel.

But C.S. told the probation department he was “going to make the staff’s life miserable,” and while social workers endorsed residential placement as the least restrictive option, the probation department cited evidence that argued for a DOC placement. The juvenile court agreed with the DOC placement, which the Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday in C.S., Jr. v. State of Indiana, 18A-JV-862.

The panel found the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion and C.S.’s rights were not violated when he testified at his disposition hearing via video conference.

In addition to his violent and delinquent behavior, C.S. “had frequently abused drugs and alcohol and had been suspended from school more than twenty times and expelled twice,” Friedlander wrote. “He had failed to positively respond to prior opportunities for rehabilitation. He had also displayed a general lack of respect for authority figures. The recommendations of the service providers, coupled with the probation department’s opinion that C.S., Jr. was too great a risk for community placement, support the juvenile court’s disposition.”

The COA also rejected C.S.’s contention that right of a criminal defendant to be “personally present” at sentencing established in Hawkins v. State, 982 N.E.2d 997, 1002-03 (Ind. 2013), should be extended to juvenile disposition hearings. Such a holding would make his appearance via video an error, but the panel wrote C.S’s reliance on Hawkins was misplaced, citing instead Jordan v. State, 512 N.E.2d 407, 408 (Ind. 1987).

“Unlike the defendant in Hawkins, C.S., Jr. was not a criminal defendant appearing before the court for a sentencing hearing. C.S., Jr. was a delinquent child appearing before the juvenile court for a modification hearing. Given the Indiana Supreme Court’s express statement that commitment of a delinquent child is not considered a sentence, Jordan, 512 N.E.2d at 408, we conclude that the rules relating to the sentencing of criminal offenders do not apply. Rather, we look to the statutes relating to juvenile delinquency proceedings,” Friedlander wrote.

“Indiana Code section 31-37-18-1.3 (2007) requires that a delinquent child be given notice of and an opportunity to be heard during a dispositional hearing. Nothing in the statute, however, requires that the delinquent child be physically present for either a dispositional or modification hearing. C.S., Jr. does not claim that he was not given adequate notice of the March 6, 2018 hearing. The record clearly demonstrates that he participated in the hearing via video conference. We conclude that C.S., Jr.’s presence via video conference was sufficient to satisfy the requirements of Indiana Code section 31-37-18-1.3.”

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