D.P. v. State, 090820 INSC, 20S-JV-443

Docket Nº:20S-JV-443
Opinion Judge:RUSH, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Party Name:D.P., Appellant (Respondent) v. State of Indiana, Appellee (Petitioner) State of Indiana, Appellant (Petitioner) v. N.B., Appellee (Respondent)
Attorney:ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT D.P. Joel C. Wieneke Wieneke Law Office, LLC Brooklyn, Indiana ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE N.B. Leanna Weissmann Lawrenceburg, Indiana ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE/APPELLANT STATE OF INDIANA Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Angela N. Sanchez Assistant Section Chief, Crim...
Judge Panel:David, Massa, Slaughter, and Goff, JJ., concur.
Case Date:September 08, 2020
Court:Supreme Court of Indiana
 
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D.P., Appellant (Respondent)

v.

State of Indiana, Appellee (Petitioner)

State of Indiana, Appellant (Petitioner)

v.

N.B., Appellee (Respondent)

No. 20S-JV-443

Supreme Court of Indiana

September 8, 2020

Argued: June 29, 2020

Appeal from the Putnam Circuit Court, No. 67C01-1901-JD-3 The Honorable Matthew L. Headley, Judge

Appeal from the Madison Circuit Court, No. 48C02-1811-JD-390 The Honorable G. George Pancol, Judge

On Petitions to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, Nos. 19A-JV-690, 19A-JV-1659

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT D.P. Joel C. Wieneke Wieneke Law Office, LLC Brooklyn, Indiana

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE N.B. Leanna Weissmann Lawrenceburg, Indiana

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE/APPELLANT STATE OF INDIANA Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Angela N. Sanchez Assistant Section Chief, Criminal Appeals Indianapolis, Indiana

OPINION

RUSH, CHIEF JUSTICE.

Decades ago, this Court declared, "The age of the offender is determinative of subject matter jurisdiction in the juvenile court . . . ." Twyman v. State, 459 N.E.2d 705, 708 (Ind. 1984). That simple jurisdictional principle holds true today.

In these consolidated appeals, the State filed juvenile delinquency petitions against two individuals for committing, when they were under eighteen, what would be felony child molesting if committed by an adult. At the time the petitions were filed, however, neither individual was a "child" as defined for purposes of juvenile law.

The State requested that each individual be waived into adult criminal court, and both of the alleged offenders moved to dismiss their respective cases for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The State responded that, while a juvenile court doesn't have the authority to adjudicate either individual delinquent, the court could still waive its jurisdiction. We disagree. Under the plain language of the relevant statutes, a juvenile court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to waive an alleged delinquent offender into adult criminal court if the individual is no longer a "child."

Facts and Procedural History

These consolidated appeals present strikingly similar facts and concern a single issue: a juvenile court's ability to waive an individual who is twenty-one or older into adult criminal court.

In January 2019, when D.P. was twenty-three years old, the State filed a delinquency petition against him. The petition alleged D.P. was a "delinquent child" because, at the age of sixteen, he had committed what would be Class B felony child molesting if committed by an adult. The allegation stemmed from an accusation D.P.'s cousin had made-that, in 2012, when she was eleven years old, D.P. forced her to have sexual intercourse with him multiple times.

The State then filed a motion requesting that the juvenile court waive D.P. into adult criminal court. Soon after, D.P. moved to dismiss the case, arguing that, because he was over twenty-one years of age, the juvenile court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the delinquency petition or to conduct a waiver hearing. The juvenile court disagreed, concluding it had original jurisdiction because the alleged act occurred when D.P. was sixteen. It further reasoned that dismissal would be "against public policy and legislative intent" by effectively shortening the child-molesting statute of limitations for D.P. and others similarly situated. The juvenile court accordingly denied D.P.'s motion and scheduled a waiver hearing. At D.P.'s request, the court certified its order for interlocutory appeal.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. D.P. v. State, 136 N.E.3d 620, 624 (Ind.Ct.App. 2019). After referencing various statutory provisions, the panel concluded that the juvenile court had subject matter jurisdiction to decide whether D.P. should be waived into adult criminal court. Id. at 623-24.

D.P.'s circumstances were not unique. Around the same time his case was making its way through the courts, another young man-N.B.-was dealing with the same jurisdictional issue.

In N.B.'s case, the State filed a delinquency petition against him when he was twenty-one years old. The petition repeatedly referred to N.B. as a "child." And it alleged that, at some point between the ages of twelve and fifteen, N.B. had fondled his younger cousin and thus committed what would be Class B felony child molesting if committed by an adult.

The State subsequently filed a motion requesting that N.B. be waived into adult criminal court. Before the juvenile court ruled on the State's motion, N.B. moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because he was not a "child" under the delinquency statutes. The State responded that it was not seeking a juvenile adjudication of N.B. but that, procedurally, the matter had to be filed in juvenile court. The State further argued that granting N.B.'s motion would deny the alleged victim her "right to seek justice under the law." Rejecting the State's argument, the juvenile court found that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed N.B.'s case.

The State appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed. State v. N.B, 139 N.E.3d 284, 285 (Ind.Ct.App. 2020). Noting that the case was "nearly identical" to D.P., the N.B. panel held the juvenile court had subject matter jurisdiction "to accept and entertain the State's delinquency petition and determine whether N.B. should be waived to adult criminal court." N.B., 139 N.E.3d at 287-88.

Both D.P. and N.B. sought transfer. After consolidating the appeals, we granted the petitions, vacating the Court of Appeals opinions. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

Standard of Review

We must determine whether, under relevant statutes, a juvenile court has subject matter jurisdiction over D.P.'s and N.B.'s waiver proceedings. Where the facts are not in dispute, subject matter jurisdiction is a pure question of law that we review de novo. Citizens Action Coal. of Ind. v. Koch, 51 N.E.3d 236, 240 (Ind. 2016). Likewise, we afford de novo review to the interpretation of statutes. City of New Albany v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Floyd, 141 N.E.3d 1220, 1223 (Ind. 2020).

Discussion and Decision

Subject matter jurisdiction refers to a court's constitutional or statutory power to hear and adjudicate a certain type of case. State v. Reinhart, 112 N.E.3d 705, 711 (Ind. 2018). When a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, any judgment it enters is void. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs v. Ispat Inland, Inc., 784 N.E.2d 477, 481 (Ind. 2003).

Juvenile courts, in particular, have limited subject matter jurisdiction, as they may exercise authority over cases only as permitted by statute. C.E.K., II v. State, 928 N.E.2d 258, 259 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010), trans. denied. In other words, when statutory jurisdictional prerequisites are not satisfied, the juvenile court has no power to hear and decide the matter.

Here, the parties collectively agree that the juvenile court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate either D.P. or N.B. a delinquent child because of their ages. The State contends, however, that the governing statutory scheme does permit a juvenile court to determine whether to waive D.P. or N.B. into adult criminal court. D.P. and N.B. disagree, maintaining that, if the relevant statutes preclude a juvenile court from adjudicating them delinquent, those statutes must also preclude the court from conducting a waiver hearing.

To resolve this issue, we first explore the contours of a juvenile court's subject matter jurisdiction in delinquency proceedings. We then determine whether, given these jurisdictional boundaries, a juvenile court has authority to conduct a waiver proceeding over D.P. or N.B.

I. A juvenile court may not enter a delinquency adjudication against an individual who does not meet the definition of a "child."

As relevant here, a juvenile court has "exclusive" subject matter jurisdiction over proceedings in which a "child" is alleged to be delinquent. Ind. Code § 31-30-1-1(1) (2020).1 The term "child," for juvenile law purposes, is defined as (1) a person less than eighteen; (2) a person eighteen, nineteen, or twenty and who either is charged with a delinquent act committed before the age of eighteen or has been adjudicated a child in need of services before eighteen; or (3) a person less than twenty-one and who has allegedly committed what would be murder when less than eighteen. I.C. § 31-9-2-13(d).

Recently, the Court of Appeals evaluated this definitional statute to address the scope of a juvenile court's subject matter jurisdiction in delinquency proceedings. M.C. v. State, 127 N.E.3d 1178, 1180-81 (Ind.Ct.App. 2019). In that case, a juvenile court adjudicated twenty-three-year-old M.C. delinquent for committing, at seventeen, what would have been child molesting if committed by an adult. Id. at 1179, 1181. The Court of Appeals reversed, noting that under the relevant definition of "child," a juvenile court's subject matter jurisdiction in delinquency proceedings is "limited to cases...

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