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State v. J.T.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 2, 2019

State of Indiana, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
J.T., Appellee-Respondent.

          Appeal from the Elkhart Circuit Court The Honorable Michael A. Christofeno, Judge The Honorable Deborah Domine, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 20C01-1508-JD-290

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Ellen H. Meilaender Supervising Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Joel M. Schumm Appellate Clinic Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Indianapolis, Indiana

          Sharpnack, Senior Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] The State filed a petition alleging that twelve-year-old J.T. was a juvenile delinquent for committing an act that would have been murder, a felony, if committed by an adult. The State later moved the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction over J.T. and transfer the case to criminal court. The court denied the State's motion after an evidentiary hearing.

         [¶2] In this discretionary interlocutory appeal, the State asks the Court to reverse the juvenile court's judgment. By contrast, J.T. requests dismissal of the State's appeal. We deny J.T.'s request to dismiss this appeal and affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.

         Issues

         [¶3] The State raises one issue, which we restate as: whether the juvenile court abused its discretion in denying the State's request to waive jurisdiction over J.T. On cross-appeal, J.T. argues that the State has no authority to seek discretionary interlocutory review of a juvenile court's refusal to waive jurisdiction over a juvenile.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶4] As we describe the facts of this case, we keep in mind that the juvenile court has not yet issued a final decision on the merits. In July 2015, twelve-year-old J.T. lived with her father, Edwin Torres; her stepmother, Maria Torres;[1] her half-sister; and her half-brother in an apartment in Elkhart, Indiana. J.T. had displayed symptoms of severe mental illness, and the symptoms intensified in early 2015. She had poor grades at school, and she and Edwin both later stated that she had suffered from headaches, had difficulty sleeping, talked about hearing voices, and had blackouts. J.T. talked less and spent increasing amounts of time alone in her room. Several persons noted that J.T. discussed hearing the voices of people named Star and Anna. Star reportedly told J.T. to hurt people, while Anna told J.T. to ignore Star. J.T. also sometimes told people her name was Anna or Star. J.T. also displayed an obsession with a cartoonish character named Laughing Jack, who was featured in stories on websites. Laughing Jack, who dressed in black and white and whose face was painted like a clown, was frequently depicted using knives to commit murder.

         [¶5] J.T. repeatedly asked her mother, Dishay Hydorn-Patrick, Edwin, and other relatives for help with her symptoms. She also spoke with a school counselor, who urged Edwin to take J.T. to a mental health professional. He instead took J.T. to their family doctor. Later, several appointments were scheduled with a counselor, but J.T. missed the appointments because of insurance issues and because Edwin had undergone back surgery and could not drive her to the counselor's office.

         [¶6] On the night of July 23, 2015, J.T. texted her friend J.P. to arrange to meet at a nearby park at 10:00 p.m. that night. J.T. texted in capital letters that she wanted to leave tonight because she could not "take it anymore." Tr. Vol. II, p. 141. She also said she was "about to snap." Id. at 144. They discussed bringing food, water and clothing. J.P. was aware of J.T.'s alternate personas, and she later concluded she had been texting with Star that night.

         [¶7] After communicating with J.P., J.T. interacted with Edwin and Maria as they ate dinner and watched television. J.T.'s half-sister had gone to bed, and J.T.'s half-brother was not at home that night. Edwin was disturbed because J.T. kept displaying a "big grin" "showing all her teeth." Id. at 74. She also stood in a strange posture, but she repeatedly insisted she was fine.

         [¶8] Later that night, Edwin and Maria heard a loud noise and smelled smoke. Maria opened the door to J.T.'s bedroom, and smoke poured out of the room into the hallway. J.T. was standing in the middle of her room and did not respond to Maria. Edwin entered the bedroom and saw a fire on the floor and a bigger fire in the closet.

         [¶9] Meanwhile, Maria took J.T. out into the hallway. As Edwin tried to put out the fires, he heard his wife scream that J.T. had a knife. He entered the hallway and saw Maria knocking on the door of J.T.'s half-sister's bedroom. When she awoke and opened the door, she saw her mother, Maria, standing there with blood on her clothes. Maria told J.T.'s half-sister, "I'm dying call the police." Id. at 57. She called 911.

         [¶10] Edwin found J.T. near the apartment's front door. She was holding a knife and was standing in an unusual posture. He looked into her eyes and "just didn't recognize her." Id. at 76. Edwin told J.T. they needed to leave, or they would all die in the fire. She told him to stay back and not come closer, speaking in a "clownish" tone of voice. Id. Edwin approached J.T., and she started to swing at him with the knife. He opened the door and struggled with her as they moved into the hallway. Edwin disarmed J.T. and threw the knife away, but J.T. escaped from him and ran out of the apartment building. At that point, he realized he was bleeding heavily from one arm.

         [¶11] Edwin reentered the smoke-filled apartment and found his other daughter. She told him that she thought Maria was dead, and they went outside.

         [¶12] Officer Daniel Mayer of the Elkhart Police Department was dispatched to the apartment building to investigate the 911 call. Upon arriving at the scene, Officer Mayer and another officer entered the building and noticed a large amount of blood in the hallway. They followed a blood trail up a staircase to the third floor. The officers found a knife in the hallway near the door to J.T.'s apartment, from which smoke was emanating. The smoke was so thick that Officer Mayer retrieved a gas mask from his car to enter the apartment. Other officers arrived and interviewed Edwin and J.T.'s half-sister.

         [¶13] Firefighters arrived and searched the apartment. They found Maria lying on the floor in one of the bedrooms and removed her from the apartment. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The cause of Maria's death was multiple stab wounds to her face and torso, including a three-and three-quarter-inch deep stab wound to her chest.

         [¶14] Meanwhile, J.P. slipped out of her home and met J.T., as previously arranged. J.T. had blood on her hands and clothes. J.T. washed the blood off of her hands in a nearby waterway and told J.P. she had started a fire and stabbed Maria and Edwin. The two girls then walked along a railroad track and left Elkhart. At some point, J.T. changed into clean clothes.

         [¶15] In the early morning hours of July 24, 2015, Zachary Sleeper was awakened by a knock on his door. He encountered two girls, later identified as J.T. and J.P. They asked for something to eat, claiming they had been hiking with their families and got lost. One of the girls was barefoot. Sleeper was suspicious because there were no hiking trails in his area. He offered to call their families, but the girls avoided providing any information. Next, Sleeper asked them to stay on the porch while he cooked something for them. He called the police as he cooked, assuming the girls were runaways. The police arrived and took them into custody.

         [¶16] The girls were carrying backpacks. The police looked in one of the bags and found bloodstained pants. Several officers questioned J.P., who told the police the pants belonged to J.T. J.P. also told the officers that J.T. had exhibited different personalities. J.T. was placed in the Elkhart County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC).

         [¶17] On August 3, 2015, the State filed a Petition for Authority to File Juvenile Delinquency Action and tendered a Delinquency Petition.[2] The Delinquency Petition alleged J.T. had committed an act that would constitute murder, a felony, if committed by an adult. On that same day, the juvenile court authorized the State to file the Delinquency Petition. A guardian ad litem (GAL), Elizabeth Bellin, was assigned to J.T.'s case shortly after she was detained. GAL Bellin filed an initial report with the juvenile court, detailing J.T.'s symptoms of severe mental illness. On August 4, 2015, after reviewing the report, the court ordered the Elkhart County Probation Department to investigate alternative placements for J.T. The court further ordered that J.T. be evaluated for mental illness.

         [¶18] Next, the court scheduled an initial hearing for August 7, 2015. During the initial hearing, the State informed the juvenile court that the State "does not intend to seek a waiver of juvenile jurisdiction" "at this time." Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 81.

         [¶19] On August 13, J.T. filed a motion to determine her competency to participate in the proceedings. The juvenile court granted the motion and appointed mental health professionals to investigate J.T.'s mental state. Meanwhile, juvenile probation employees researched secure residential locations, other than the JDC, where J.T. could obtain more thorough mental health treatment. The employees investigated several private treatment centers and the state-run facilities owned by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration's Division of Mental Health and Addiction (DMHA), but they were unsuccessful in finding a placement for J.T.

         [¶20] On November 12, the juvenile court held an evidentiary hearing as to J.T.'s competence. Two psychiatrists and one psychologist opined that J.T. displayed symptoms consistent with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).[3] All three further expressed opinions that J.T. was not competent to participate in her defense. The juvenile court concluded J.T. was "not competent to stand trial and that she should be placed through [DMHA]." Id. at 109. The court directed DMHA to confine J.T. in "an appropriate psychiatric institution until her competency is restored." Id. at 112.

         [¶21] The prosecutor did not object to the juvenile court's determination, but on November 19, a deputy attorney general sought to intervene in the case on behalf of the DMHA. DMHA disputed the juvenile court's authority to order that J.T. be placed in a state hospital. After an evidentiary hearing, the juvenile court reaffirmed its order that J.T. be placed in a DMHA facility.[4]

         [¶22] On December 1, 2015, Elkhart County probation officers transported J.T. to LaRue Carter Hospital (the Hospital), a DMHA facility, for treatment. A substantial delay occurred because the Hospital's staff indicated they had no experience with returning juveniles to mental competence and stated they were unsure it could be done. In the meantime, the juvenile court held periodic review hearings on March 2, 2016, December 15, 2016, February 2, 2017, May 18, 2017, May 30, 2017, and June 27, 2017. As we discuss in more detail below, J.T. showed some signs of improvement while she was at the Hospital but still displayed symptoms associated with DID and PTSD.

         [¶23] On March 23, 2017, the juvenile court appointed two mental health professionals to reassess J.T.'s competency to participate in her own defense. The competency assessments were delayed due to scheduling issues, but an assessment was filed on September 6, 2017, stating that J.T. was competent to stand trial. The court scheduled an evidentiary hearing to determine J.T.'s competency on October 4, 2017.

         [¶24] On September 13, 2017, the State filed a motion for waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction. After the October 4 hearing, the court ordered an additional competency evaluation. On January 19, 2018, after receipt of the final competency evaluation, the court determined J.T. was competent to participate in her own defense and scheduled a hearing on the State's motion to waive jurisdiction.

         [¶25] The juvenile court held an evidentiary hearing on the State's waiver motion on April 23, 2018, May 31, 2018, and June 1, 2018. On June 4, 2018, the court issued an order denying the State's motion for waiver of jurisdiction. The court determined the State had provided sufficient evidence to meet the statutory elements of waiver by a preponderance of the evidence, but that J.T. "has demonstrated that it would be in the best interest of the child and the safety and welfare of the community for [her] to remain within the juvenile justice system. The child has met her assigned burden of proof." Appellant's App. Vol. III, p. 191.

         [¶26] The State moved the juvenile court to certify its June 4, 2018 order for discretionary interlocutory appeal. The court granted the motion and stayed further proceedings in the case, with the exception of determining placement of J.T. pending resolution of her case. Next, the State petitioned this Court to accept the interlocutory appeal. This Court's motions panel granted the State's petition, and this appeal followed.[5] In the meantime, J.T. has been placed at a secure residential facility in Ohio. The facility has a therapist that specializes in treating DID. J.T.'s case is subject to periodic review by the juvenile court.

         Discussion and Decision

         I. Cross-Appeal - Interlocutory Appellate Jurisdiction

         [¶27] We first address J.T.'s cross-appeal claim. J.T. argues that the State lacks the authority to seek interlocutory review of the juvenile court's denial of the State's motion to waive jurisdiction and asks this Court to dismiss the State's appeal. Whether the State may appeal the court's order is a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. I.T., 4 N.E.3d 1139, 1142 (Ind. 2014).

         [¶28] It is well established that the State may appeal only when authorized by statute. Id. Further, the State's statutory right of appeal contravenes common law principles and must be strictly construed. S ...


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