Legg v. State — Application of Juvenile Alternative Sentencing

In Legg v. State (Ind.Ct.App. December 10, 2014), the appellate court takes the first step to address the limits of the juvenile alternative sentencing statutes.  When IC 31-30-4 became law, it was largely in response to the Paul Henry Gingrich case.  There was a recognition that some children were too young, physically small, and/or immature to be placed with the other juveniles sentenced as adults at the Indiana Department of Correction.  The statutes also align with the string of U.S. Supreme Court cases that recognize that children are different than adults and note the role of adolescent development in delinquency.  IC 31-30-4 gives the sentencing criminal court an opportunity to sentence a juvenile in such a way as to allow the child to be placed at the DOC Division of Youth Services, to receive services aimed at children, and to have a review hearing between his or her eighteenth and nineteenth birthdays to determine if the original sentence should be modified if the child has shown maturation and rehabilitation.

In Legg, Donta Legg was convicted of Murder, a felony, and Carrying a Handgun Without a License as a Class A Misdemeanor.  The Court found that “…the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the nature of the offense and the character of the offender rendered sentencing under the alternative sentencing scheme unsuitable….The General Assembly has not provided factors such as [those in the waiver of jurisdiction statutes] to determine whether the alternative sentencing scheme should be implemented.”  However, while not binding on the criminal court, the waiver of jurisdiction statutes, such as IC 31-30-3-2, give “good examples of the kinds of criteria a trial court may consider in reaching its decision…”  In this case, Legg was charged with a heinous crime that was committed in front of a juvenile and had a history of prior juvenile adjudications, including a failed probation and suspended commitment.  The appellate court found that “[t]he trial court implicitly found, based upon [the fact that Legg was sixteen when he committed the acts and that he was convicted by a jury], that Legg [was] beyond rehabilitation under the juvenile justice system.  Likewise, the trial court implicitly found that the safety and welfare of the community dictate sentencing as an adult.”

Future cases will need to address additional unanswered questions about IC 31-30-4, such as:

  • In cases in which the child has been moved to criminal court after the juvenile court waived jurisdiction, and when the juvenile court specifically cited the alternative sentencing scheme as part of the justification for the waiver order, should the criminal court be required to apply the alternative sentencing scheme?
  • Should the criminal court be required to note that the alternative sentencing scheme was considered and lay out the court’s analysis in each sentencing order of a juvenile?
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