Appellate court reverses delinquency adjudication for sexual battery based on insufficient evidence

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana has reversed a juvenile’s delinquency adjudication for felony sexual battery after finding insufficient evidence to support the adjudication.

In September 2021, the state filed a delinquency petition against juvenile E.S. for allegedly committing sexual battery, a Level 6 felony when committed by an adult. The alleged victim was another minor, B.H.

A factfinding hearing was conducted, but the victim was declared unavailable to testify and her deposition was admitted into evidence.

At the close of the hearing, the Posey Circuit Court adjudicated E.S. as a delinquent, finding that he had committed the act of sexual battery. It then ordered E.S. to participate in two years of probation with sex offender-specific treatment and supervised internet use.

E.S. appealed, arguing the state failed to present sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to support the true finding for the Level 6 felony.

The Court of Appeals agreed with E.S. in a unanimous reversal, but noted that its holding and reasoning should not be construed as approval for E.S.’s actions.

“While we acknowledge the emotional trauma inflicted on B.H. as a result of these incidents, the State failed to carry its burden of establishing that E.S.’s conduct amounted to sexual battery,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “Based on the facts presented to us, E.S.’s behavior did not meet the statutory requirements of the sexual battery statute, and accordingly, we must reverse his adjudication for sexual battery.”

To support a true finding for sexual battery as a Level 6 felony, the appellate court observed that the state was required to establish proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But the delinquency petition did not specify which incident between E.S. and B.H. prompted the sexual battery allegation, the court noted, and there was no evidence “that B.H. was compelled to submit to E.S.’s touches, nor can we reasonably infer compulsion from this very limited evidence before us.”

The COA added in a footnote, “We caution the state not to conflate the facts relating to separate incidents to fit the statutory requirements.”

“Based on the foregoing, we hold that the State did not present sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to sustain E.S.’s delinquency adjudication for sexual battery, a Level 6 felony when committed by an adult,” the appellate court concluded.

The case is E.S. v. State of Indiana, 22A-JV-1197.

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