Jurisdictional rule does not apply retroactively, IN Supreme Court rules

The Indiana Supreme Court bench in the Indiana Statehouse (IL file photo)

The Indiana Supreme Court clarified Wednesday that their previous ruling in a 2020 juvenile case involving a dangerous possession of a firearm statute did not apply retroactively to a separate juvenile case decided a year earlier.

M.H. was arrested in 2019 when he was 14 years old for trespassing, which then led to the discovery of a loaded handgun in his possession. He was adjudicated as a delinquent after admitting to dangerous possession of a firearm.

He didn’t file any notice of appeal, thus rendering the judgment final 30 days later.

In 2020, the court held in K.C.G. v. State of Indiana, 20S-JV-263, that because the dangerous possession of a firearm statute expressly applied to minors, the offense couldn’t be committed by an adult.

Relying on K.C.G., M.H. filed a Trial Rule 60(B)6) motion for relief from judgment in 2021.

He argued that the juvenile court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate him as a delinquent under the Dangerous-Possession Statute, making the judgment void.

The Elkhart Circuit Court found the motion “proper” but denied the requested relief. The juvenile court looked to an amendment to Indiana Code section 31-37-1-2 that went into effect August 2021, which enlarged the definition of a “delinquent act” to include an act “in violation of” the Dangerous-Possession Statute.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed, holding that at the time of M.H.’s act was interpreted by K.C.G., making the judgment void.

The high court granted the state’s petition for transfer and vacated the COA opinion.

In M.H. v. State of Indiana, 22S-JV-251, the appellant argued that the jurisdictional rule the high court announced in K.C.G. may apply retroactively to collaterally attack a final delinquency adjudication as void.

The state argued that K.C.G. does not apply to M.H.’s adjudication.

“We agree with the State on the need for retroactivity analysis,” Justice Christopher Goff wrote.

The court looked at Teague v. Lane in analyzing whether a new civil/quasi-criminal rule applies retroactively.

The court found its K.C.G. decision does not apply retroactively.

“While we agree that K.C.G. created no new substantive rule, we reject the State’s argument that our decision created a new procedural rule,” Goff wrote. “… Second, and more importantly, the State mischaracterizes our holding in K.C.G. Our decision in that case focused not on whether the juvenile court exercised jurisdiction ‘exclusive’ of or ‘concurrent’ with the circuit courts, as the State contends. To the contrary, we expressly held that, because a misdemeanor offense under the Dangerous-Possession Statute could never be ‘an act that would be an offense if committed by an adult,’ the ‘juvenile court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction’ completely.”

Goff added that the lack of clearly applicable precedent calls for a variation in their analytical framework.

“Because the jurisdictional rule at issue here doesn’t quite fit the Teague analysis, we offer a modified rule to guide us in similar cases going forward: When a decision implicates a new jurisdictional rule, as in K.C.G., we apply the principle of non-retroactivity, rather than vacate a final judgment for voidness, unless the jurisdictional error compromised the reliability or fairness of the proceedings,” Goff wrote.

The court then looked at whether the concerns called for retroactive application of K.C.G.

The high court stated that the principles and policies compelled them to restrict the retroactive effect of K.C.G.’s new jurisdictional rule.

Finally, Chief Justice Loretta Rush concurred with Goff concluding that the juvenile court did not err.

“While a reversal of his adjudication would certainly mark a victory for [M.H.], others would no doubt consider it a travesty of justice,” Goff wrote.

Justice Derek Molter wrote a separate concurring opinion stating that he agrees K.C.G. does not apply retroactively for a collateral attack on a final delinquency adjudication but had two points to note.

Molter looked at State v. Arkansas Construction Company, 201 Ind. 259, 167 N.E. 526 (1929), where the high court held that a decision declaring a jurisdictional statute unconstitutional did not have retroactive effect.

“If our conclusion that our Constitution precludes jurisdiction is generally applied prospectively, then the same must be true for our conclusion that a statute precludes jurisdiction,” Molter wrote.

His said that the opinion explains how it is generally consistent with federal retroactivity principles but that it is also consistent with federal caselaw.

“It is also consistent with federal caselaw in the more specific context of Rule 60(B) motions collaterally attacking judgments on jurisdictional grounds,” Molter wrote.

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter also wrote a separate concurring opinion that Justice Mark Massa joined.

“Juvenile adjudications are not subject to post-conviction relief afforded for criminal convictions. Jordan v. State, 512 N.E.2d 407, 408 (Ind. 1987). And neither should post-judgment relief for juvenile adjudications be subject to the retroactivity rules that apply to collateral criminal proceedings,” Slaughter wrote. “That is especially true when our longstanding civil retroactivity precedent already supplies a proper rule of decision here.”

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