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A.M. v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 20, 2018

A.M., Appellant-Respondent,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Petitioner

          Appeal from the Kosciusko Superior Court The Honorable David C. Cates, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 43D01-1708-JD-292

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

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General Lee M. Stoy, Jr. Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Crone, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Fifteen-year-old A.M. was adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for conduct amounting to class B misdemeanor battery if committed by an adult. He was placed on parental supervision/probation. He subsequently committed criminal acts and violated other probation rules, and the State moved to modify his placement. The trial court held a dispositional hearing and modified his placement to the Department of Correction ("DOC"). A.M. now appeals, claiming that the trial court abused its discretion by relying on insufficient information and by failing to explain its reasons for modifying his placement to the DOC. He also contends that he was denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel during the modification hearing. Finding that the trial court acted within its discretion in modifying A.M.'s placement and concluding that A.M. was not denied his right to the effective assistance of counsel, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] A.M., born in June 2002, is a teenager with a history of emotional and behavioral issues. At age eight, he began counseling to address his issues and was enrolled at an alternative school. In his seven years of attendance at the school, he was frequently truant and/or tardy and had multiple suspensions for fighting, "explosive rage," property destruction, e.g., throwing chairs and ¶ipping desks, and violent acts against school personnel. Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 65. At age ten, he had three true findings for acts amounting to class D felony battery with bodily injury if committed by an adult. He was put in parental placement under the supervision of the probation department. In the ensuing years, he had several suspensions from school and several referrals to the juvenile court, which were dismissed.

         [¶3] In 2017, A.M. beat up a fellow teenager at the fairgrounds, and the victim required emergency room treatment for cuts on his face. This incident resulted in a true finding for acts amounting to class B misdemeanor disorderly conduct if committed by an adult. Again, A.M. was placed on supervised probation in his mother and stepfather's home. He was ordered to avoid all criminal activity, avoid possession and use of controlled substances, alcohol, and tobacco, attend school regularly, obey school rules and teachers, study for one hour per school night, obey his parents, abide by an 8:00 p.m. curfew, assist in meal preparation and clean up at home, prepare a list of long- and short-term goals, participate in mental health services and anger management counseling, submit a written apology to his victim, complete community service, and avoid all direct and indirect contact with a certain named individual. Id. at 77.

         [¶4] Within two months of the supervised probation order, A.M. was a suspect in a burglary involving the residence of one of his classmates. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for acts amounting to class B misdemeanor battery if committed by an adult, stemming from a physical altercation at the bus stop. He was suspected of alcohol use, expelled from his alternative school, and wanted by police for theft of a firearm. These developments prompted the State to seek a modification of A.M.'s placement to the DOC. At the hearing on the motion to modify, the parties stipulated to the redaction of the burglary- and alcohol-related allegations. A.M. admitted to the remaining allegations in the motion to modify, which included the battery allegation as well as the violation of several rules, including those related to his conduct and attendance at school, conduct at home, curfew, participation in counseling, and the no-contact order. The parties also stipulated to the admission of a police report in which A.M. admitted to stealing a handgun. The trial court issued a dispositional order finding that A.M. had committed criminal acts and violated several of the rules of his placement. The court modified his placement to the juvenile division of the DOC. A.M. now appeals the trial court's order. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.

         Discussion and Decision

         Section 1 - The trial court acted within its discretion in modifying A.M.'s placement.

         [¶5] A.M. asserts that the trial court abused its discretion in modifying his placement. The disposition of a juvenile adjudicated a delinquent is a matter committed to the trial court's discretion, subject to the statutory considerations of the child's welfare, community safety, and the policy favoring the least harsh disposition. R.H. v. State, 937 N.E.2d 386, 388 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010). We review the trial court's dispositions and modification thereof for an abuse of discretion, which occurs if its decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before it or the reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom. Id.; see also K.A. v. State, 775 N.E.2d 382, 386 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002) (applying abuse of discretion standard where juvenile challenged modification of placement to DOC following her violation of terms of suspended commitment), trans. denied. In determining whether a trial court has abused its discretion, we neither reweigh evidence nor judge witness credibility. Ripps v. State, 968 N.E.2d 323, 326 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014).

         [¶6] The crux of A.M.'s argument is that the trial court modified his placement to the harshest option - the DOC - without sufficient information concerning his circumstances and without adequately explaining its reasons for doing so. Juvenile court proceedings are civil, not criminal, in nature. T.K. v. State, 899 N.E.2d 686, 687-88 (Ind.Ct.App. 2009). "[T]he goal of the juvenile process is rehabilitation so that the youth will not become a criminal as an adult." Id. As such, juvenile courts have a variety of placement choices. Id. Indiana Code Section 31-37-18-6 reads, If consistent with the safety of the community and the best interest of the child, the juvenile court shall enter a dispositional decree that:

(1) is:
(A) in the least restrictive (most family like) and most appropriate ...

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