How Young is Too Young for Delinquency Court?

On September 22, 2014, public defenders spoke at the meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code about the need for new statutes setting the minimum age for juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction.  There are three specific scenarios that are involved.  First, for any general juvenile delinquency case, there is no minimum age specified.  The result is that younger and younger children are being arrested — some as young as six or seven years old — with some detained at detention centers.  Most of these children are likely incompetent to stand trial because of a lack of understanding of the court system and inability to assist with their defense simply because they are so young and unsophisticated.

Second, if the child is accused of murder and is at least ten years old, the child may be waived or transferred to criminal court to face the charges in the same was as if they were an adult (I.C. 31-30-3-4).  That is what happened with the case of Paul Henry Gingerich when he was twelve years old.

Third, if the child is at least fourteen years old and accused of committing heinous or repetitive acts, the child may be waived or transferred to criminal court (I.C. 31-30-3-2).  The concepts of what qualifies as heinous and how many acts are enough to qualify as repetitive is not well defined in the law.  There is a group in Indiana examining this particular statute also to see whether it is being applied in disproportionate numbers to minority youth.

Age proposals include that the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction be twelve years old, as that is the youngest age that a child may be sent to the Indiana Department of Correction Division of Youth Services (I.C. 31-37-19-7), one of the many disposition options available to juvenile court judges.  For waiver cases, the proposal is to make the minimum age sixteen years old, which would align the two waiver statutes mentioned above with all of the other waiver statutes in the juvenile code.

For a horrifying story about the impact of moving children to criminal court, see As Another Young Boy Commits Suicide in Adult Prison, We Must Rethink the Prosecution of Children as Adults by Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center.

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