Justices: Agreed juvenile adjudication appeals follow T.R. 60

Juveniles who agree to delinquency adjudications cannot immediately challenge their adjudications on direct appeal, but instead must make a request for post-judgment relief via Trial Rule 60 before pursuing their constitutional right to appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled.

Justices granted transfer in J.W. v. State of Indiana, 19S-JV-12, on Wednesday and used the case to determine whether the holding in Tumulty v. State, 666 N.E.2d 394 (Ind. 1996) should be extended to the juvenile version of plea agreements. Tumulty held that adult defendants must challenge their guilty pleas via post-conviction relief, not direct appeal, and the instant case tasked the justices with examining that rule in the juvenile context.

J.W. has a lengthy history with the juvenile justice system dating back to his first delinquency adjudication in 2013. He was eventually placed in the Department of Correction, and upon his release in 2017, he became a runaway.

Then in July 2017, New Castle police received a 911 call about a young man threatening suicide. J.W. turned out to be the person making the threat, though he identified himself to police as his older brother, M.W., using his brother’s birthdate to make it appear as though J.W. were 18.

J.W.’s true identity was revealed when he was admitted to the local hospital and his sister called asking for information about his identity. J.W. was then arrested as a juvenile runaway for fleeing his parents’ home and for false informing.

At a subsequent hearing in August 2017, J.W.’s counsel told the court the teen had agreed to admit to what would be Class B misdemeanor false informing if committed by an adult, and J.W. admitted to providing a false name and birthdate. The court accepted the settlement, but J.W. appealed, arguing his adjudication should be set aside.

The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, dismissed the appeal in December 2017, finding juvenile defendants must seek relief through a Trial Rule 60 motion. The Supreme Court likewise dismissed J.W.’s appeal, finding the “same concerns of finality and freedom” that apply to agreements and settlements in the criminal and civil courts likewise apply in judicial proceedings.

“As with other consent judgments, an agreed delinquency judgment limits the juvenile’s ability to challenge the agreed judgment on direct appeal,” Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote for the unanimous court.

The process of challenging agreed judgments, including agreed delinquency adjudications, generally requires trial courts to conduct additional fact-finding into the formation of the agreement, Slaughter wrote. While that process plays out in criminal post-conviction proceedings for adults, Trial Rule 60 is the appropriate avenue for juveniles who wish to raise “any and all claims” regarding the illegality of agreed delinquency adjudications, the court said.

“Under Rule 60, ‘the court shall hear any pertinent evidence, allow new parties to be served with summons, allow discovery, [and] grant relief,” Slaughter wrote, quoting from section (D) of the rule. “And after the trial court has ruled, a party aggrieved by the post-judgment ruling can then appeal.”

“… Moreover, in the interest of judicial economy, if a juvenile’s direct appeal includes any claim subject to our extended Tumulty rule, the entire appeal shall be dismissed without prejudice so the so-called ‘Tumulty claims’ can receive a full airing in the juvenile court,” Slaughter continued. “Only after the juvenile court has resolved the Tumulty claims in a post-judgment proceeding can the juvenile proceed on appeal with all his claims.”

Finally, the justices concluded that juveniles retain the right to counsel for post-judgment relief motions. The court also noted that its bright-line ruling might be overinclusive, but “the rule’s likely benefits in simplicity and overall judicial economy outweigh its costs.”

The case was dismissed without prejudice and remanded for further proceedings, with the court noting that the time J.W. spent litigating his appeal will not impact the timeliness of any post-judgment motion he chooses to file.

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