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C.S. v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

October 1, 2019

C.S., Jr., Appellant (Defendant),
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff). Z.T., Appellant (Defendant),
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Argued: April 25, 2019

          Appeals from the Elkhart Circuit Court, Nos. 20C01-1712-JD-612, 20C01-1710-JD-540 The Honorable Michael A. Christofeno, Judge The Honorable Deborah A. Domine, Magistrate

          On Petitions to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, Nos. 18A-JV-862, 18A-JV-1656

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS Nancy A. McCaslin McCaslin & McCaslin Elkhart, Indiana

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

          ATTORNEY FOR AMICUS CURIAE INDIANA PUBLIC DEFENDER COUNCIL, JUVENILE DEFENSE PROJECT Joel C. Wieneke Indiana Public Defender Council, Juvenile Defense Project Indianapolis, Indiana

          Chief Justice Rush and Justices Massa and Slaughter concur. Justice David concurs in part, dissents in part with separate opinion.

          Goff, Justice

         In separate proceedings, two teenagers were sent to the Indiana Department of Correction after a hearing where they appeared by video rather than in person. Although the main characters differ, everything else about the teenagers' stories, from the start of the hearing to this point, is nearly identical. The teenagers each appeared by Skype at a hearing to decide whether their juvenile dispositional decrees should be modified to make them wards of the Department of Correction. Although the teenagers did not object to participating via Skype, nothing in the record indicates that they agreed to do so or that the trial court found good cause for their remote participation. At the end of the hearings, both teenagers were made wards of the Department of Correction. They separately appealed, arguing primarily that their remote participation in their hearings did not comply with Indiana Administrative Rule 14. We find that Rule 14 generally governs the use of telephones and audiovisual telecommunication tools in our trial courts, including in juvenile cases, and Rule 14(B) applies to the types of hearings involved here. But we ultimately conclude that the teenagers have failed to show that their remote participation resulted in fundamental error. Therefore, they cannot gain the relief they seek, and we affirm the trial court. However, we close this opinion with guidance to courts and attorneys so that this procedural story is not repeated.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Although different underlying circumstances and separate juvenile proceedings led them to the Department of Correction (DOC), the juveniles involved in both cases, C.S., Jr. and Z.T. (or, the Juveniles), experienced nearly identical procedures along the way.[1] The same trial court judge separately adjudicated both C.S., Jr. and Z.T. delinquents in late 2017. The Juveniles were physically present at these hearings. The same judge held separate disposition-modification hearings in 2018 where the State requested that the Juveniles be made wards of the DOC.[2] Both C.S., Jr. and Z.T. participated in these disposition-modification hearings via the videoconferencing application Skype. Neither C.S., Jr. nor Z.T. objected on the record to appearing via Skype, but there is also no indication in the record that the parties agreed to this type of remote participation or that the trial court found good cause for this procedure. During these hearings, testimony from multiple people-including C.S., Jr. and Z.T.-was noted as "indiscernible to [the court] reporter." See, e.g., C.S., Jr. Tr. Vol. II, p. 43; Z.T. Tr. Vol. II, p. 47. At the conclusion of both disposition-modification hearings, the trial court granted the State's request and made each juvenile a ward of the DOC. C.S., Jr. and Z.T. both indicated their intent to appeal, and the trial court appointed a new attorney to represent both juveniles in their separate appeals.

         Before the Court of Appeals, C.S., Jr. brought a two-pronged attack. First, C.S., Jr. argued that the trial court abused its discretion in granting wardship to the DOC. Second, relying on Indiana Administrative Rule 14 and this Court's interpretation of Rule 14 in the context of criminal sentencing, C.S., Jr. argued that he had a right to be physically present at the modification hearing and the trial court erred when it went forward with the hearing despite his Skype participation. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court in a published decision. C.S., Jr. v. State, 110 N.E.3d 433, 437 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018). In concluding that C.S., Jr.'s Skype participation was acceptable, the panel differentiated criminal defendants from juveniles and found that C.S., Jr. was given all that was required by statute: notice of the modification hearing and an opportunity to be heard. Id. at 436-437 (discussing Hawkins v. State, 982 N.E.2d 997, 1002-03 (Ind. 2013), and Ind. Code § 31-37-18-1.3 (2007)). C.S., Jr. sought rehearing, arguing that the Court of Appeals did not adequately address his arguments based on Administrative Rule 14, but the Court of Appeals denied the petition.

         Z.T. brought a similar two-pronged attack, contending that the trial court erred in granting wardship to the DOC and in conducting the hearing with Z.T. participating via Skype. However, Z.T. built on C.S., Jr.'s argument and specifically argued that the trial court's holding of a hearing at which Z.T. was not physically present contravened Administrative Rule 14 and thereby denied him due process. In a memorandum decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. Z.T. v. State, No. 18A-JV-1656, 2018 WL 6332469, *4 (Ind.Ct.App. Dec. 5, 2018). Relying in part on C.S., Jr. to conclude that Z.T.'s Skype participation was adequate, Z.T.'s panel likewise distinguished criminal defendants from juveniles and found that Z.T. had notice of the modification hearing and an opportunity to be heard at it. Id. at *3. The panel then went a step further and concluded that Rule 14 did not apply to the juvenile modification hearing in which Z.T. participated. Id.

         C.S., Jr. and Z.T. separately sought transfer and made nearly identical arguments centered on the propriety of their remote participation in the modification hearings below. Additionally, the Indiana Public Defender Council, Juvenile Defense Project appeared as amicus curiae aligned with the Juveniles in both cases. We granted C.S., Jr.'s and Z.T.'s petitions to transfer to address the issue of their Skype participation at their modification hearings, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinions. See Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). We summarily affirm both Court of Appeals panels below on the issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting wardship of C.S., Jr. and Z.T. to the DOC. See App. R. 58(A)(2).

         Standard of Review

         This case involves a question of the scope and applicability of Indiana Administrative Rule 14, and we interpret our administrative rules de novo. See Hawkins, 982 N.E.2d at 1002-03 (interpreting Ind. Administrative Rule 14 de novo).

         However, before the trial court, neither C.S., Jr. nor Z.T. objected to appearing at their modification hearings by video, so they must show that the alleged error was fundamental to gain relief. Kelly v. State, 122 N.E.3d 803, 805 (Ind. 2019) ("Fundamental error is an exception to the general rule that a party's failure to object at trial results in a waiver of the issue on appeal."). "An error is fundamental, and thus reviewable on appeal, if it 'made a fair trial impossible or constituted a clearly blatant violation of basic and elementary principles of due process presenting an undeniable and substantial potential for harm.'" Durden v. State, 99 N.E.3d 645, 652 (Ind. 2018) (quoting Knapp v. State, 9 N.E.3d 1274, 1281 (Ind. 2014)). "[F]undamental error is a daunting standard that applies 'only in egregious circumstances'" where the trial judge should have corrected the situation sua sponte. Knapp, 9 N.E.3d at 1281 (citation omitted).

         Discussion and Decision

         C.S., Jr. and Z.T. challenge the process by which the trial court modified their juvenile dispositional decrees and made them wards of the DOC. They argue that the trial court violated Administrative Rule 14 and thereby denied them due process when it had them participate in their disposition-modification hearings by Skype without their express agreement or a finding of good cause. We proceed in four parts. First, we consider the scope and applicability of Rule 14, determining if the rule applies in these situations. Second, we determine if the trial court followed Rule 14 here. Third, we assess whether the alleged error in having C.S., Jr. and Z.T. ...


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