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R.R. v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

January 11, 2018

R.R., Appellant-Respondent,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Petitioner

         Appeal from the Lawrence Circuit Court The Honorable John M. Plummer, III, Judge Pro Tempore Trial Court Cause Nos. 47C01-1409-JD-294, 47C01-1609-JD-342

          Attorney for Appellant Cara Schaefer Wieneke Wieneke Law Office, LLC Brooklyn, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General Laura R. Anderson Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          CRONE, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] When R.R., a seventeen-year-old juvenile, did not appear for the combined factfinding hearings in his juvenile delinquency and probation violation cases, the trial court held the hearings in his absence and found that he committed the charged offenses and violated his probation. R.R. now appeals, arguing that he had a constitutional right to be present at the hearings and that the trial court violated that right by holding them in his absence. The State argues that R.R. waived any such right by refusing to appear. In response, R.R. argues that under the juvenile waiver statute, Indiana Code Section 31-32-5-1, he could not validly waive that right because he was not emancipated.

         [¶2] We hold that although juveniles have a constitutional right to be present at factfinding hearings in delinquency and probation proceedings, the trial court had the authority to find R.R. to be in a position of procedural default under the particular facts of this case, where R.R. knowingly and intentionally refused to appear. The legislature would not have intended for the juvenile waiver statute to allow nearly emancipated young adults to ignore trial court orders and thwart the operation of the juvenile justice system by intentionally refusing to appear at dispositional hearings. Therefore, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] In September 2014, under cause number 47C01-1409-JD-294 ("JD-294"), the State filed a petition alleging that R.R. was a delinquent child for committing criminal mischief, a class B misdemeanor if committed by an adult. R.R. admitted to the allegation and was placed on supervised probation until the following September.

         [¶4] Between May and September 2015, the State filed seven petitions to modify R.R.'s probation.[1] Eventually the trial court placed R.R. in residential treatment at Southwest Indiana Regional Youth Village. In June 2016, the court released R.R. from residential treatment and ordered him to remain on supervised probation for six months.

         [¶5] Between August 2016 and January 2017, the State filed four additional petitions to modify R.R.'s probation in JD-294.[2] In September 2016, under cause number 47C01-1609-JD-342 ("JD-342"), the State filed a petition alleging that R.R. was a delinquent child for committing the new offenses of auto theft, a class D felony if committed by an adult, and false informing, a class B misdemeanor if committed by an adult.

         [¶6] On October 31, 2016, a joint pretrial conference was held in JD-294 and JD-342; R.R. was present at this hearing along with his attorney and his mother, with whom he lived. Tr. Vol. 2 at 183. The trial court went off the record and scheduled factfinding hearings in both cases for January 17, 2017. Id. at 188; Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 127 (JD-294), 157 (JD-342). On January 5, the State filed a motion to continue the hearings. The next day, the court granted the State's motion and issued an order rescheduling the hearings for February 7 and directing R.R. and his mother to appear. Id. at 129 (JD-294), 157 (JD-342).

         [¶7] On January 20, 2017, in JD-294, the State requested an order from the trial court to take R.R. into custody. The State alleged that R.R. "ha[d] not been in compliance with the terms and conditions of probation since he was discharged from the Southwest Indiana Regional Youth Village on June 23, 2016[, ]" in that he had failed to attend his probation appointments on January 6 and 20 and failed to attend his urine drug screen on January 17. Id. at 133; see also id. at 131-32 (alleging that R.R. had also failed to attend GED classes and complete community service). The court issued an order authorizing law enforcement to take R.R. into custody and detain him at the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center. Id. at 135. As it turned out, R.R. remained at large for over two months.

         [¶8] R.R., who by then was nearly seventeen and a half years old, [3] did not appear at the factfinding hearings on February 7. R.R.'s attorney and mother both appeared. When the trial court asked R.R.'s mother if she knew where R.R. was, she responded, "No. He hasn't even called me since he left. I thought we had an appointment on the 30th and I tried to make him go and he took off and I haven't seen him since." Tr. Vol. 3 at 2. The court responded, "Well, let the record reflect that this child's whereabouts are unknown. The child's mother is here. She doesn't know where he is. Sounds like he's been gone for seven (7) or eight (8) days." Id. The court then confirmed with R.R.'s mother that she had not heard from him at all. The court asked the prosecutor what she wanted to do, and the prosecutor said that she wanted to proceed in R.R.'s absence. Defense counsel objected and requested a continuance "so that [R.R.] can be present at his hearing." Id. at 3. Notably, neither defense counsel nor R.R.'s mother alleged that R.R. did not have notice of the rescheduled factfinding hearings. The court denied defense counsel's motion to continue because "the child's whereabouts are unknown, mother is present, [and] the child has taken off." Id. The court then held factfinding hearings in both JD-294 and JD-342. At the conclusion of the hearings, the court entered true findings for auto theft and false informing in JD-342 and found that R.R. violated his probation in JD-294. Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 136 (JD-294), 180 (JD-342).

         [¶9] R.R. was finally detained on the outstanding pick-up order on March 29, 2017, and he appeared in court the next day with his attorney and mother for the dispositional hearings in JD-294 and JD-342. At the beginning of the hearing, the prosecutor reiterated R.R.'s failure to appear on February 7. When R.R. took the stand, he testified that "[a]bout two (2) weeks ago, " he started "hanging out at a boys home in Bedford." Tr. Vol. 3 at 74. However, R.R. proffered no reason for his failure to appear on February 7. The director of the Bedford Boys Home then testified that R.R. "came to us about … five (5) days ago" and that after talking with R.R. he learned that there was an outstanding pick-up order for him. Id. at 80. The director testified that he told R.R. that he should turn himself in. The trial court awarded wardship of R.R. to the Department of Correction in both cases. This appeal ensued.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶10] R.R. contends that he had a constitutional right to be present at the factfinding hearings in JD-294 and JD-342 and that the trial court violated that right by holding them in his absence. He first notes that "the right of a child to be present at delinquency fact-finding [hearings] has not been squarely addressed by [Indiana] appellate courts[.]" Appellant's Br. at 9. It is well established that defendants in criminal proceedings have the constitutional right to be present at all stages of their trial. See Jackson v. State, 868 N.E.2d 494, 498 (Ind. 2007) (citing U.S. Const. amend. VI and Ind. Const. art. 1, § 13). And although probation revocation hearings are in the nature of a civil action, probationers have the constitutional right to be present because revocation implicates their liberty interest. Mathews v. State, 907 N.E.2d 1079, 1081-82 (Ind.Ct.App. 2009). "Juvenile delinquency proceedings are civil proceedings, not criminal proceedings, and are based on a philosophy of social welfare rather than criminal punishment." D.M. v. State, 949 N.E.2d 327, 333 n.6 (Ind. 2011). Nevertheless, because delinquency and probation proceedings threaten a juvenile's loss of liberty, we see no reason why juveniles should not be afforded the same constitutional right as criminal defendants and probationers and therefore recognize that juveniles have a general right to be present at delinquency and probation factfinding hearings. Cf. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 31-57 (1967) (holding that juveniles in delinquency proceedings are constitutionally entitled to notice of charges, right to counsel, rights of confrontation and cross-examination, and privilege against self-incrimination).[4]Notably, the State does not argue otherwise. See Appellee's Br. at 15 (State assuming arguendo that juveniles have right to be present at delinquency factfinding hearings).

         [¶11] Having established that R.R. had the right to be present at the February 7 factfinding hearings, the question then becomes whether a hearing can ever be held in his absence. If a criminal defendant knowingly and voluntarily waives the right to be present, a trial may occur in the defendant's absence. Jackson, 868 N.E.2d at 498. As the Indiana Supreme Court has stated:

When a defendant fails to appear for trial and fails to notify the trial court or provide it with an explanation of his absence, the trial court may conclude that defendant's absence is knowing and voluntary and proceed with trial when there is evidence that the defendant knew of his scheduled trial date.

Id. (quoting Freeman v. State, 541 N.E.2d 533, 535 (Ind. 1989)). "The best evidence that a defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his or her right to be present at trial is the 'defendant's presence in court on the day the matter is set for trial.'" Lampkins v. State, 682 N.E.2d 1268, 1273 (Ind. 1997) (quoting Fennell v. State, 492 N.E.2d 297, 299 (Ind. 1986)), modified on other grounds on reh'g, 685 N.E.2d 698. Thus, when a defendant knows of the trial date but fails to appear, the trial court may presume that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived the right to be present at the trial and try the defendant in absentia. Brown v. State, 839 N.E.2d 225, 227 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005), trans. denied (2006). A defendant who has been tried in absentia "must be afforded an opportunity to explain his absence and thereby rebut the initial presumption of waiver." Id. This, however, does not require a sua sponte inquiry from the trial court. Holtz v. State, 858 N.E.2d 1059, 1063 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006), trans. denied (2007). ...

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