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R.R. v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

September 13, 2018

R.R., Appellant
State of Indiana, Appellee

          Argued: May 31, 2018

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

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals No. 47A04-1705-JV-944

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Cara Schaefer Wieneke Wieneke Law Office, LLC Brooklyn, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana Andrew Kobe Laura R. Anderson Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana


          Slaughter, Justice

         Justice Goff concurs. Chief Justice Rush concurs in Parts I.B. and II. and dissents from Part I.A., with separate opinion. Justice Massa concurs in Part I.A. and dissents from Parts I.B. and II., with separate opinion. Justice David dissents with separate opinion, which Chief Justice Rush joins in part and which Justice Massa joins in part.

         Slaughter, Justice.

         At a fact-finding hearing where R.R., a juvenile, was not present, the trial court found R.R. violated his probation and adjudicated him a delinquent for auto theft and false informing. R.R. argues that (1) juveniles have a due-process right to be present at such hearings, and (2) the trial court violated this right by holding the hearing in his absence. We assume without deciding that R.R. is correct on the first issue and agree with him on the second. We thus reverse the trial court's delinquency determination and remand for further proceedings.

         Factual and Procedural History

         In September 2014, the State alleged R.R., then fourteen years old, committed criminal mischief, a Class B misdemeanor for an adult. R.R. admitted the allegations, and the court placed him on supervised probation for six months. Beginning in May 2015, the State filed multiple petitions to modify R.R.'s probation because he had violated the terms of his probation. These modifications included housing him in a residential treatment center for at-risk youth. The court ordered R.R. released from this facility in June 2016 and placed him back on probation for six months. Only six weeks later, the State again petitioned the court to modify R.R.'s probation, noting more violations. In September 2016, the State alleged R.R. committed auto theft, which would be a Level 6 felony had he been an adult, and false informing, which would be a Class B misdemeanor. In January 2017, the State filed a "Request for Taking Child Into Custody" based on that September 2016 petition.

         On February 7, 2017, the court held a fact-finding hearing concerning the September 2016 petition and the January 2017 request. R.R. was not present, but his mother and counsel did appear. When asked if she knew where her son was, R.R.'s mother answered, "No. He hasn't even called me since he left." 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."

         The State offered to proceed in R.R.'s absence, but R.R.'s counsel balked. When asked if she objected to proceeding, R.R.'s counsel said, "Yeah, I do object to that and I request a continuance so that [R.R.] can be present at his hearing." The court denied the motion and proceeded with the fact-finding hearing despite R.R.'s absence. After the hearing, the court found R.R. had violated the terms of his probation and committed auto theft and false informing.

         Nearly two months later, on March 30, police detained R.R. under a pick-up order, and he appeared at a dispositional hearing the same day. At the hearing, the court ordered that R.R. be made a ward of the Indiana Department of Correction. R.R. appealed, arguing he had a constitutional right to appear at his fact-finding hearing, and the court violated that right by holding the hearing in his absence.

         A divided Court of Appeals affirmed in a published opinion, concluding R.R. had a right to be present at the hearing, but had waived this right because he "knowingly and intentionally refused to appear." R.R. v. State, 93 N.E.3d 768, 770 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018). Adopting R.R.'s interpretation would, the court observed, allow juveniles to "hijack trial court dockets and avoid responsibility for their delinquent behavior by knowingly and voluntarily (and repeatedly) refusing to appear at factfinding hearings." 93 N.E.3d at 774-75. The dissent believed R.R. had not waived his right to appear because his conduct did not conform to the waiver requirements outlined in our juvenile-waiver statute, Indiana Code chapter 31-32-5. Id. at 775-76 (Vaidik, C.J., dissenting). We granted transfer, thus vacating the Court of Appeals' opinion, and now reverse.

         Standard of Review

         At issue here are two questions of first impression: first, whether juveniles have a due-process right to appear at a fact-finding hearing; and, second, if they have such a right, how they can waive it. Both the existence of constitutional rights and the requirements for waiving them are legal questions we review de novo. When determining whether a juvenile has a constitutional right that the Supreme Court of the United States has not expressly recognized, we will decide the question based on "our own judicial examination of the various cases, statutes, and constitutional principles pertinent thereto." Bible v. State, 253 Ind. 373, 378, 254 N.E.2d 319, 320 (1970). Also relevant here are the meaning and scope of Indiana's juvenile waiver-of-rights statute. "A statute's meaning and scope are legal questions we review de novo." Garner v. Kempf, 93 N.E.3d 1091, 1094 (Ind. 2018). Our goal is to effectuate the statute's ...

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