Justices: Juvenile courts lack jurisdiction to waive those who age out

Juvenile courts’ jurisdiction to waive minors to adult court ends when the juvenile reaches the age of 18 or 21, depending on the nature of the case, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, reinforcing bright-line statutory jurisdiction in dismissing a pair of cases alleging child molestation.

The ruling in the consolidated cases of D.P. v. State of Indiana and State of Indiana v. N.B., 20S-JV-443, related to two cases where the state asked juvenile courts to waive minors to adult court where delinquency petitions had been filed but the alleged delinquents had turned 21.

“Decades ago, this Court declared, ‘The age of the offender is determinative of subject matter jurisdiction in the juvenile court …,’” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote, citing Twyman v. State, 459 N.E.2d 705, 708 (Ind. 1984). “That simple jurisdictional principle holds true today.

“… Under the plain language of the relevant statutes, a juvenile court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to waive an alleged delinquent offender into adult criminal court if the individual is no longer a ‘child,’” Rush wrote. Depending on the relevant situations and statutes, that age is either 18 or 21.

The justices’ ruling applied to a Putnam County case, D.P. v. State of Indiana, and a Madison County case, State of Indiana v. N.B. In D.P., the Indiana Court of Appeals in November affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss a delinquency petition against a 23-year-old. Likewise, in N.B., the appellate panel reversed dismissal of a molest case on the basis that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

The COA panel in N.B. held that the juvenile court had jurisdiction to “entertain” delinquency petitions for those over 21 for the purpose of waiving people to adult court, but not to enter a disposition.

But Rush cited statutes she said were unambiguous regarding juvenile court jurisdiction. “(A) prerequisite to waiver is that an alleged offender is a ‘child,’ which neither D.P. nor N.B. is. In other words, not only is the language of the waiver statutes clear, those statutes also are in harmony with the jurisdictional provision regarding delinquency proceedings — making judicial statutory construction inappropriate.

“The State does not point to — nor do we find — any other statute that would confer upon the juvenile court limited subject matter jurisdiction to waive an individual who is twenty-one or older into adult criminal court. The State argues, though, that finding no subject matter jurisdiction in these cases would run afoul of legislative intent by effectively shortening the child-molesting statute of limitations for D.P., N.B., and those similarly situated.”

The unanimous court found it true that had D.P. committed the alleged offense on his 18th birthday, he could have been charged in adult court. But it likewise found that in these cases, the state could have filed charges directly in adult court, because the statute of limitations for molestation has not expired.

“What’s more, the State fails to acknowledge a competing policy argument: accepting the State’s position would lead to adults being punished many years after their youthful offenses, without any opportunity for juvenile rehabilitation,” Rush wrote. “By way of example, N.B.’s alleged victim does not turn thirty-one until either 2035 or 2036. This means that, if the juvenile court has jurisdiction over N.B. for waiver purposes, the State could file a delinquency petition against him in his late thirties for acts that allegedly occurred when he was between twelve and fifteen years old. D.P. and N.B. maintain that the legislature likely recognized this potential injustice and thus ‘closed the opportunity for juvenile proceedings when the offender turns 21-years old.’”

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