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COA: DOC placement best for juvenile, community’s safety

October 12, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the placement of a teen boy in the Indiana Department of Corrections when it found that placement would best promote community safety and his best interests.

In Oct. 2017, then-15-year-old J.S. was placed on electronic monitoring after he was reportedly seen firing a gun at a party and was found sleeping in a stolen car with a loaded hand gun on the front passenger’s side floor area. Later that month, J.S. was found to have violated his electronic monitoring when he allowed friends to stash a firearm and other contraband in his home after a robbery.

In Feb. 2018, J.S. was removed from his home and placed in pretrial detention after a state petition alleging he committed criminal recklessness, dangerous possession of a firearm and carrying a handgun without a license if committed by an adult during the Oct. 2017 party.

J.S. admitted to acts amounting to receiving stolen auto parts, Class A misdemeanor dangerous possession of a firearm and Class A misdemeanor theft if committed by an adult. The agreement specified disposition would be left to the trial court’s discretion.

During a dispositional hearing, the Marion Superior Court ordered J.S. be placed in the DOC. On appeal, J.S. contended the trial court abused its discretion in that decision, challenging the trial court’s finding that “[a]ll three referrals before the court were firearms related.”

J.S. argued that the presence and/or involvement of a firearm was factually determined only as to his confession to knowing that a firearm used in an armed robbery was present in his bedroom. Therefore, the trial court could not properly consider the presence or involvement of a firearm in the remaining referrals against him.

The appellate court disagreed, noting that in addressing his argument, J.S. never objected or sought clarification in his other gun-related cases.

“Instead, he now appears to assert that when a trial court is considering placement options for a juvenile offender, it may not consider evidence beyond that which formed the factual basis for the juvenile’s agreed admissions. We disagree,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the court in J.S. v. State of Indiana, 18A-JV-1049.

The appellate court cited Bethea v. State, 983 N.E.2d 1134, 1144 (Ind. 2013), finding that J.S. similarly entered into an admission agreement with the state that was “functionally analogous to a plea agreement” in which J.S.’s disposition and placement was left open to the trial court’s discretion.

“The agreement did not include any language limiting the information that the State or J.S. could offer as factors relevant to the trial court’s determination regarding placement; rather, it simply limited the delinquent acts for which the court could enter true findings,” Crone wrote. “We find Bethea instructive and conclude that the trial court could properly consider the overall narrative of the referrals against J.S. when evaluating what placement would best promote community safety and J.S.’s best interests.”

Additionally, the appellate court found that the educational opportunities available within the DOC would offer a level of structure that would better promote J.S.’s educational interests, in light of his history of suspensions and discipline at school. 

Finally, the appellate court found J.S.’s failure to abide by his pretrial home detention conditions did not “bode well for his long-term prospects of success in less restrictive placements.”

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