Reversal: Court must determine whether mother can pay $11K in delinquency costs

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

A juvenile delinquent and her mother successfully appealed an order requiring that they pay more than $11,000 for secure detention costs after an appellate panel found no inquires were ever made concerning the mother’s ability to pay.

In 2019, F.A., a minor, committed several acts of runaway or acts that would constitute escape if committed by an adult that prompted the filing of delinquency petitions against her. Although she was ordered to a problem-solving court program, a fourth delinquency petition was filed alleging  F.A. committed acts that would be resisting law enforcement and one count of unauthorized entry of a motor vehicle if committed by an adult.

F.A. was then placed at Crossroad Child and Family Services, but she eventually left without permission and was terminated from the problem-solving court.  Wardship of F.A. was awarded to the Indiana Department of Correction, and the juvenile court ordered that both F.A. and her mother pay a total of $12,879 for a variety of fees, including $11,475 in secure detention costs.

However, at a prior dispositional hearing for the four delinquency cases, the probation department’s predispositional report left F.A.’s parents’ financial information blank except for noting that F.A.’s mother receives $645 per month in “food stamps.” Thus, F.A. appealed the order requiring that she and her mother pay the costs of secure detention, arguing the Lawrence Circuit Court abused its discretion in F.A. v. State of Indiana, 19A-JV-2438.

In a reversal, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with F.A. after finding the juvenile court erred in both ordering her to pay and by failing to conduct an inquiry into F.A.’s mother’s ability to do so.

“Regardless of whether DCS or the county is responsible for paying the services, the statutes provide that a delinquent child’s parents are financially responsible for any services ordered by the court and must provide reimbursement unless the court determines that they are unable to pay or that justice would not be served by ordering payment from the parent,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the appellate panel.

The COA noted that the state conceded the juvenile court failed to properly inquire into F.A. and her mother’s ability to pay, making remand for such an inquiry necessary.

However, it also pointed out that the reimbursement statutes at issue do not allow juvenile courts to order the child to pay the costs of secure detention, but rather the child’s parents. The panel therefore found error in ordering F.A. to pay the costs and reversed that order, as well.

Lastly, the appellate court addressed F.A.’s assertion that the reimbursement is limited by the Child Support Rules and Guidelines.

“Accordingly, on remand, if the juvenile court orders F.A.’s mother to pay reimbursements, the juvenile court shall follow the applicable requirements related to the Child Support Rules and Guidelines,” Tavitas concluded.

Judge Patricia Riley concurred in result without a separate opinion.

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