No Juvenile Jury Trials, But Right to a Jury Trial for Damage Caused by a Stray Animal?

In researching an article, I found a statute about stray animals and jury trials.  The legislature has determined that a fight over a stray animal and a fence is worthy of a jury trial, but, as noted in a previous post, that same right to a jury trial is not extended to children who face indefinite removal from the community and long-term collateral consequences from a juvenile adjudication.  For instance, certain juvenile adjudications can impact a child’s future ability to attend college (21st Century Scholars application disclosures, I.C. 21-12-6-5), take certain jobs or roles (lawyer, foster parent), act as a guardian for a child (I.C. 29-3-7-7), or remain in public housing (42 U.S.C. 13663(a)).

We, as a state, have made it a priority that if a stray animal enters an enclosure of a person who is not the owner of the domestic animal and causes damage, the property owner may recover damages.  I.C. 32-26-2-2.  If the animal’s owner refuses to pay the requested damages, the matter may be set for civil trial, and either party may demand a jury trial.  I.C. 32-26-2-9; I.C. 32-26-2-10.  Clearly, there is a potential financial impact to the parties.

A juvenile delinquency case is also a civil action with much more at stake than money.  The Article I, Section 20 of the Indiana Constitution states that “[i]n all civil cases, the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”  However, the legislature has passed a statute carving out most juvenile court cases from this right to a jury trial.  I.C. 31-32-6-7(a).

Opponents of the right to a jury trial for juvenile delinquency matters often argue that the child must be kept from the public gaze.  This is not a matter of confidentiality, as many juvenile delinquency hearings are open to the public by statute, if the child is accused of an act that would be murder or a felony if committed by an adult.  IC 31-32-6-2.  It is not unusual in high-profile cases for the media and the public to be in the courtroom during highly sensitive testimony.

Perhaps it is time to revisit our priorities.

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