Justices to hear case of first impression involving teen’s attempted murder conviction

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear a case of first impression involving a teen’s attempted murder conviction. The case previously divided an appellate panel that reversed the conviction based on the exclusion of the 15-year-old defendant’s mother from the courtroom.

Indiana Court of Appeals judges split earlier this year in Byron D. Harris, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-1863. Byron Harris Jr. was 15 when he was accused of shooting a man he thought had robbed him. The man suffered two gunshots wounds to the leg, and Harris was later charged with committing acts that would be Level 1 felony attempted murder and Level 3 felony aggravated battery if committed by an adult. He was convicted in Elkhart Superior Court.

A majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals panel — writing Judge Elizabeth Tavitas and Judge Edward Najam — concluded that Harris’ mother was essential to presenting her son’s claim or defense under Indiana Evidence Rule 615(c). The majority ultimately reversed Harris’ attempted murder conviction and 37-year sentence in the Department of Correction.

“Regardless of the waiver to adult court, our criminal procedures should take into account the juvenile’s youth and need for such meaningful consultation with a parent, especially during a trial,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the majority, joined by Judge Edward Najam.

Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented from the decision. Vaidik asserted that Harris did not argue on appeal that his mother should have been allowed to stay in the courtroom because of Evidence Rule 615(c). Neither, she argued, did he raise either the due-process issue or the Evidence Rule 615(c) issue in the trial court.

Lastly, Vaidik disagreed with “the majority’s blanket conclusions that every waived juvenile has an absolute due process right to have a parent who is also a witness present throughout trial and that the presence of such a parent is per se ‘essential’ for purposes of Rule 615(c).”

Indiana Supreme Court justices agreed to hear the case on petition to transfer, granting the request on Sept. 3. Justices denied transfer in 34 other cases considered for the week ending Sept. 4.

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