Closing Arguments in Juvenile Fact-finding Hearings

A juvenile fact-finding hearing (trial) is a bench trial that in Indiana is subject to virtually all of the procedural rights and rules of any other type of bench trial, including a criminal trial.  However, because of the long history of informality in juvenile courts, the judge or the parties may be tempted to take shortcuts and avoid closing argument.

Consider this quote from a U.S. Supreme Court case:

“…the difference in any case between total denial of final argument and a concise but persuasive summation could spell the difference, for the defendant, between liberty and unjust imprisonment. Some cases may appear to the trial judge to be simple—open and shut—at the close of the evidence.  And surely in many such cases a closing argument will, in the words of Mr. Justice Jackson, be ‘likely to leave (a) judge just where it found him.’ But just as surely, there will be cases where closing argument may correct a premature misjudgment and avoid an otherwise erroneous verdict. And there is no certain way for a trial judge to identify accurately which cases these will be, until the judge has heard the closing summation of counsel.”  Herring v. New York, 422 U.S. 853, 863 (1975).

Juveniles have their liberty and a host of collateral consequences at risk if adjudicated.  For those children who choose to challenge their case through a fact-finding hearing, they deserve and are entitled to the full range of practice techniques and procedures to defend their case.

Thanks to Jackie Bullard from the Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender for this quote and idea.

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