COA finds juvenile court has jurisdiction over 8-year-old child molestation accusation

The Indiana Court of Appeals was able to forgo having to choose sides in a knotty policy argument by citing state statute, giving the juvenile court jurisdiction in a case of alleged child molestation that didn’t come to light until the accused offender was over 18 years of age.

Eight years after he allegedly molested a 7-year-old, Cameron Dibble was the subject of a delinquency petition for committing what would be Class B felony child molesting if committed by an adult. Dibble had been 15 at the time of the incident but was 23 when charged.

The juvenile court waived jurisdiction and the state filed the charge in criminal court in June 2020. However, in September 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court handed down D.P. v. State, 151 N.E. 3d 1210 (Ind. 2020), which held juvenile courts lack jurisdiction to waive juvenile offenders to adult court after those offenders reach age 21.

Dibble subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted by juvenile court. Meanwhile the state successfully moved to dismiss the corresponding criminal charge that arose from the juvenile court’s waiver of jurisdiction to adult court.

The state then filed the criminal case directly in the Cass Circuit Court. But the trial court granted Dibble’s motion to dismiss, ruling the state had not established the legal means by which the case may proceed and the state “relies on an incomplete reading of D.P.

On appeal, the state was unable to get the trial court’s ruling overturned.

The state had argued that denying jurisdiction in cases such as Dibble’s would shorten Indiana’s statute of limitations for child molesting. This, the state argued, would be contrary to the intent of the Legislature, expressed when it lengthened the limitation period for child molesting charges.

The unanimous Court of Appeals cited D.P., which illuminated the competing policy argument that the state’s position would lead to adults being punished many years after their youthful offenses without any opportunity for juvenile rehabilitation.

Yet, the appellate panel noted it did not need to decide the policy argument. Instead, the Legislature provided the answer in Indiana Code section 31-30-1-11(a) by requiring juveniles charged with crime to be transferred to juvenile court.

“Here …, the criminal court does not need to transfer Dibble’s case to juvenile court because the juvenile court has previously dismissed the same allegations against Dibble with prejudice,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the appellate panel in State of Indiana v. Cameron Dibble, 21A-CR-72.  “Therefore as transfer to juvenile court would be moot, we affirm the criminal court’s dismissal.”

In a footnote, the appellate court noted the General Assembly attempted to amend I.C.31-30-1-4 during the 2021 session. The change would have removed several serious crimes such as child molesting, child seduction and incest from the juvenile court’s jurisdiction if the offender was at least 16 but less than 18 at the time of the alleged violation. The amendment did not pass.

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