When does a child become an adult? When does a juvenile “delinquent act” become an adult “crime”? These weighty questions have been the subject of debate as long as the modern justice system has been around-now, the Indiana Supreme Court has addressed them in an opinion that it hopes will spur state lawmakers to action.
The Issue At Stake
In June 2022, the Court ruled-narrowly, with a three to two margin-that the state has no authority to prosecute or punish a juvenile offender once they have turned 18 and therefore aged out of the juvenile justice system. That’s because of a “jurisdictional gap” that exists under current Indiana law.
As things stand now in Indiana, a crime committed by a minor under 18 is defined as a “delinquent act,” not an adult offense. Nor does that act automatically become an adult crime, punishable in an adult correctional facility, once that person reaches majority age.
“Under the governing statutes, a child’s delinquent act does not ripen into a crime when the child ages out of the juvenile system,” wrote Indiana Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey G. Slaughter for the narrow 2-3 majority. “The result is that neither the juvenile court nor the circuit court has jurisdiction here.”
Closing the Gap
That gap exists partly because the juvenile justice system is intended to rehabilitate, rather than punish, the offender. In other words, the issue addressed by the Supreme Court last summer hinges on what happens to an offender after they have been sentenced and what the system’s expectations are for that individual’s future.
The Supreme Court warned that state legislators need to take action, amending the law to eliminate that gap before juvenile cases are dismissed and convictions overturned due to that loophole.
Writing the dissenting opinion for the minority, Justice Christopher M. Goff said that judges should have the final say as to whether or not a juvenile delinquent act can become an adult charge. He called the majority ruling “both unjust and absurd.”
Juvenile Crimes Require Special Handling
As you can imagine, the stakes are high when it comes to juvenile cases that could result in adult sentences. Courts often give juvenile offenders the benefit of the doubt, allowing them to pursue pretrial diversion opportunities or referring them to rehabilitative programs rather than locking them up and throwing away the proverbial key.
The attorneys at Razumich & Associates are experienced and knowledgeable in handling juvenile offenses and take pride in helping families achieve the best possible outcomes in these difficult situations.
To find out if we can help your family, give us a call at 317-983-5333 or contact us today.