The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Friday in a case that raises questions about what avenues juveniles have for seeking relief if they think their cases weren’t handled properly.
The case illustrates larger challenges with Indiana’s juvenile justice system, because kids don’t have the same avenues for relief as adults in the criminal justice system.
Court documents say police took the juvenile, J.W., into custody last year for false informing and delinquency after he gave them and hospital personnel his brother’s name and age when he was treated for attempting suicide.
During the teen’s first court date, his attorney told the judge the juvenile was waiving his right to an initial hearing and admitting to the false informing count. The judge ordered the child be placed at Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center.
When an adult pleads guilty to criminal charges, the adult can’t file an appeal. Attorneys for each side disagree on whether the same rule applies to juveniles.
The Court of Appeals previously ordered the case should be sent back to the trial court, where the teen’s attorney can make a motion that would set aside his false informing admission.
Attorney Cara Wieneke represented the juvenile during the Supreme Court hearing Friday. She says neither the juvenile, nor his parents, were advised of their rights at the teen’s initial hearing. She also says the teen’s attorney at the time didn’t explain any alternatives, and his counsel wasn’t effective.
On top of that, the attorney argues the teen never engaged in false informing in the first place. State statute says false informing happens when someone “gives a false report of the commission of a crime or gives false information in the official investigation of the commission of a crime, knowing the report or information to be false.” The teen was at the hospital because he caused harm to himself, not someone else.
Wieneke says the juvenile should be able to appeal all of those issues directly, rather than having to return to the trial court.
“When there’s clear error on the record it doesn’t make sense to go back and make the juvenile do this over again,” she says.
Chief Justice Loretta Rush clarified what’s at stake for the juvenile because of how the case has proceeded thus far.
“And what’s at stake here, that a child gets committed, it’s not a term sentence, so he could go at 17 and have to stay in the DOC until he’s 21 based on a B misdemeanor lying and using his brothers name,” Rush said.
Wieneke says an adult convicted of a false informing charge would only serve up to 120 days in jail.
But the state argues the juvenile should pursue a motion for relief in trial court, because while there’s no record his initial attorney advised the teen of his rights, it could have happened.
Deputy Attorney General Andrew Kobe says that route would allow for seeking additional information.
“Even in a case where there is no record at all, we have a hearing in which the defendant explains ‘I was never told this’ and there can be evidence on the other side where an attorney can say, ‘No, I did tell you that.'”
It’s unclear when justices could rule on the case.