State loses appeal to waive teen to adult court in fatal crash case

The state failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that a juvenile court erred in denying a motion to waive to adult court a Vigo County teen accused of causing a fatal car crash.

The appellate panel affirmed the denial of waiver of the 17-year-old to adult court in State of Indiana v. D.R., 18A-JV-1608, while also finding the state was within its rights to pursue an interlocutory appeal of the juvenile court ruling under the circumstances of this case.

D.R. was arrested after he was found at the side of the road where the driver of another vehicle, Regina Hair, was found unconscious and trapped in her vehicle after a crash. Hair died later that day. D.R. told police he struck her vehicle head-on after crossing the center line, while a witness said D.R. had passed him on a double-yellow and suspected D.R. had been racing another vehicle that also passed him.

D.R. also admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that day, and a low presence of THC was found in drug tests. The state thus filed a juvenile delinquency petition alleging D.R. committed what would be Level 5 felony reckless homicide if committed by an adult. Prosecutors later moved to waive him to adult court, which the juvenile court denied, prompting this interlocutory appeal.

Writing for the appellate panel, Senior Judge John Sharpnack concluded D.R. had presented sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption of waiver of a 17-year-old in such a case under Indiana Code section 31-30-3-5(c). D.R.’s acceptance of responsibility, lack of a prior juvenile record and childhood trauma including documented neglect, molestation and exposure to domestic violence, among other factors, show the juvenile court’s determination was not against the facts and circumstances of the case.

“The juvenile court heard testimony about the nature of the alternatives D.R. could face and their possible impacts. Public Defender Michael Brewer, a witness for D.R., explained that if the juvenile court waived jurisdiction over D.R., he would face felony criminal charges but would not serve a long sentence,” Sharpnack wrote. “D.R. could receive mental health services, but he might have to pay for a portion of his care, and the supervision would not be as intensive as in juvenile court. Brewer further explained that several of his clients had been waived to adult court and, after being convicted of felonies, had difficulty getting jobs and becoming productive members of society. By contrast, if D.R. remained in the juvenile system and was placed on probation, he could be sent to a residential treatment center at no cost to him and, further, could be kept on probation until age 21 to monitor him.”

“…The juvenile court can effectively address the deeply serious allegations against D.R.,” the panel concluded.

Meanwhile, the panel rejected D.R.’s motion to dismiss the state’s interlocutory appeal.

“Indiana Code section 35-38-4-2(6) does not place any limits on the types of trial court orders that may be appealed. We should not read restrictions into the statute where none are explicitly stated,” Sharpnack wrote.D.R. also sought to dismiss the appeal, citing I.C. section 31-37-11-7, which requires a 10-day deadline for a factfinding hearing after a denial of waiver, after which a juvenile must be released from custody. Likewise, the panel found this law does not require dismissal of the petition under the circumstances of the case.

“(T)he State may seek interlocutory review of a juvenile court’s denial of a motion to waive jurisdiction, but the juvenile shall be released from custody pursuant to Indiana Code section 31-37-11-7 during the appeal if the ten-day limit is exceeded,” Sharpnack wrote.

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