ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE:
JAN B. BERG STEVE CARTER
Indianapolis, Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
CHRISTOPHER C.T. STEPHEN
Deputy Attorney General
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF E.L., ) ) Appellant-Respondent, ) ) vs. ) No. 49A02-0206-JV-449 ) STATE OF INDIANA, ) ) Appellee-Plaintiff. )
APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Julie Cartmel, Judge Pro Tempore and
February 14, 2003
OPINION - FOR PUBLICATION
I understand that there are many challenges and constraints faced by the juvenile
court and appreciate the effort that goes into each decision. In making
the determination regarding [E.L.], it is my hope that the court would take
the opportunity to substantially impact the life of this young woman and her
daughter, [T.] by ordering their participation in an established independent living program.
Appendix at 32.
Angel Knapp-Reese, the program coordinator for the Teen Pregnancy Outreach Service at the Childrens Bureau of Indianapolis, also testified on E.L.s behalf. Knapp-Reese testified that E.L. voluntarily entered the program. Moreover, E.L. regularly kept in contact with Knapp-Reese and actually was eager for their meetings. Transcript at 9. Knapp-Reese explained that she worked with E.L. on setting goals for independent living and that E.L. took the initiative to look into different apartment communities on her own. In addition, Knapp-Reese observed that E.L. appears to be very invested in caring for her daughter and hopes to finish high school and provide a home for her daughter. Knapp-Reese concluded her testimony as follows:
I have to admire any young person who is attempting to parent and continue school, because we have so often seen young women opt, to opt out and get their GEDs later, and that is a very tough task, to be able to go back, and [E.L.] is trying to maintain and do both at the same time.
Transcript at 10.
Finally, E.L.s grandmother, Betty Tunstall, testified that E.L. has become very independent and that her attitude has improved over the last couple years. She noted that E.L. is trying to graduate while taking care of her daughter. Although acknowledging that E.L. is not perfect, Tunstall testified that she believed that E.L. was becoming a much better person, since she became older and realizes that its time for her to graduate, and to make a step into the real world. Transcript at 16. Finally, Tunstall explained that the recent incident was unusual in light of E.L.s progress.
Following the presentation of evidence, counsel for E.L., Robert Newell, asked the court to take into account E.L.s great progress over the last two and one half years and to place E.L. on formal probation with court-ordered counseling. Counsel argued in substantial part:
I dont know if its the Department of Corrections (sic), or family, or the counselors shes had since that time, or having a baby, or probably just a combination of all of this. But truly somethings changed. And uh, shes been out of trouble during that period of time. . . . Also, I want to point out that she has consistently availed herself um, of whatever assistance was available to her her school, her social worker. Shes taken advantage of those things, and shes integrated and incorporated that advice into her life, leaving enough room for the child. Now, obviously (INAUDIBLE) without its ups and downs, but I think that clearly overall the trend is upward. Clearly the trend is for taking responsibility, and for um, holding herself to a higher standard, which she never did before. She has a child now, she has a chance to be the mother of that child, and to bear responsibility of a household that is free of the kind of trouble that she has experienced. . . . The period I think, [E.L.s] in a transitional phase in her life right now. Keeping the home while shes going through all these other things, and availing herself of these other services, and trying to build a life for herself, has been a stressful situation at times, I think thats what probably led to what happened that night. Uh, this unfortunate situation that found [E.L.] conducting herself in a way that I know she regrets . . . . But the transition Im sure has been difficult, and I think that speaks somewhat highly of her staying on course throughout the difficulty of trying to be a teenager in her grandmothers home at the same time shes got a child. Shes trying to turn herself into a responsible parent. And I think thats whats been going on in her life, and uh, I think weve heard a lot today from the people to indicate that shes taking that role very seriously, and that she will continue to do that if shes given the opportunity. Let me ask the Court to weigh all the factors today. . . . [S]he did this, she was disorderly, she (INAUDIBLE) some things in the house. Im sure it was not a pleasant scene. Uh, we cant change that. We cant change the fact that un, that shes been locked up now for a week, and because of that shes been away from her child, and uh, shes taken herself off course, thats for sure. But I ask the Court to consider the entire course of that two and a half years that shes been out of Girls School, what shes accomplished and has had to accomplish with her life. Whatever help was available shes availed herself of . . . . I know shes very distraught today. She feels like shes in a position now that it may make all the work shes done meaningless . . . . I know, that no matter what happens today, given this track record Judge, shell be fine regardless, but I think the court would be, what I think the court should do today, and this is what were asking, is that she be put on formal probation, and that the Court order her to continue with whatever counseling shes currently in, and continue on with her involvement with Ms. Knapp-Reese, in the effort to become independent as soon as possible . . . . Im sure that with family support and the counseling support, and the other people involved, shell be able to achieve that. I have no question about that. Ill ask the Court to give her some credit for the two and a half years in which she has made all these efforts, and hold her accountable for what happened here. Lets give her an opportunity to not get to (sic) sidetracked and be away from her baby for a period of time, and let her use this as another growing experience, incorporate this and move forward as she has shown she is able and willing to do. We ask you place her on formal probation with whatever services the Court think (sic) she needs under these circumstances.
Transcript at 20-23.
After these closing remarks, the juvenile court magistrate made the following statement:
I have read the pre-disposition report, as well as the preliminary inquiry. I have also read the pre-dispositional memorandum that was prepared by Ms. Conrad, that gives the Court a great deal of information, which includes a letter from Pike High School, and Ms. Moffitt, and I have listened very intently to the testimony that has been presented through Mr. Newells ha, witnesses. Um, I guess what I have to say to [E.L.], is that um, that I agree with everything that Mr. Newell has said, and I am very impressed by what this, by what you have done. You certainly displayed to this Court that you are an intelligent young woman, and that you have so much potential. And that your child is in, is very fortunate to have a mother that cares so much. One of this Courts concerns, however [E.L.], is that your mother was likewise very, very young when you were born, and thats a difficult task. And uh, tensions arise in families, and especially when you were young of age and lacking in maturity and experience. One of the most serious things that, that I see in this case is what happened in this home. Now I dont ah, Im certainly not accusing you of battering your mother. You did not admit to that, and grandmother has, is telling the Court that that didnt happen. However, what happens in a home, and especially during outbursts of anger that result in breaking things, and, and potentially hurting other people because of, of an uncontrollable anger, um, is very, very scary. And its all the more scary due to the fact that youre a mother and that I dont know where this baby was. Maybe she was present, maybe she was not. But the impact that this kind of an incident has on a tiny child hearing a mother and members of the family, mother and great grandmother, um or at least mother and grandmother screaming at one another, and things breaking, is a terrifying thing. Uh, incomprehensible to a child the age of yours. So, yes it was a family situation, but almost because it was a family situation and that it rose to that level of, of, of, violence, albeit directed towards walls and pictures, and inanimate objects, is, is, very scary, and very very serious. Now you are close to the age of eighteen, and um, and Im, what I have to do, Ive been searching through all of this testimony with (sic) reasons why I could defend such a, such a strong deviation from this Courts policy. And, I weigh everything youve done, and I say to myself yes, I can, I can support my position in, in following Mr. Newells recommendations. I can go to my presiding Judge, and I can say look at what shes done, look at the. . but then I come back to what happened here, and my argument is destroyed, because of what happened, and because of the potential for damaging, perhaps not physically, this baby, but emotionally. It, it its a cycle of, of kids having kids, and those kids having kids, that has to be broken by your stopping dead in your tracks and saying yes Im very young, yes I had this baby prematurely, but I, I will step up to the plate, and you didnt do that. And you didnt have any help from your mother to do it, because she also grew up as a very, very young mother. So, I have to follow this policy [E.L.]. Now you are close to eighteen, and for all intents and purposes, you are not going to remain at the Department of Corrections (sic) for the length of time that I am going to recommend, by virtue of your age, by virtue of your potential, by virtue of what youve accomplished, and by virtue of your attitude, if you maintain that attitude, that youve been carrying with you for the past two years. So, Im, Im, Im obliged, by this Courts policy for the reasons that Ive given you, to follow that policy. And I pray, I pray to the good Lord that this will not change your attitude and the course that you set for yourself. Keeping in mind that if you maintain that attitude, I think, that regardless of my recommendation, because of your age and the other things that Ive mentioned, and weve talked about today, you can be back in your programs very quickly. So, I must, for the reasons Ive explained to you, follow the Courts policy, with a prayer in my heart that this will not change what youve been doing. But that it will be yet a moment to recoil and look back, and figure out what snapped that day, why it snapped, and how it, how you are going to make certain that it never snaps again. So, with that um, being said, the Court does award wardship of [E.L.] to the Department of Corrections (sic), by policy of this Court, given the prior commitment to the Indiana Girls school. The Court does recommend that [E.L.] remain at the Department of Corrections (sic) for a period of one year; that she be involved in an educational program; pre-professional training; individual counseling, and um there is no claim for restitution.
Transcript at 23-26. Thereafter, Judge Pro Tem Julie Cartmel approved the magistrates
recommendation and awarded wardship of E.L. to the Department of Correction for a
recommended period of twelve months. The court further ordered E.L. to complete
anger control classes, individual counseling, and a vocational and/or GED program. E.L.
appeals this disposition.
The choice of a specific disposition of a juvenile adjudicated a delinquent child is within the sound discretion of the juvenile court, subject to the statutory considerations of the welfare of the child, the communitys safety, and the policy of favoring the least harsh disposition. E.H. v. State, 764 N.E.2d 681 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), trans. denied; see also Ind. Code Ann. § 31-37-18-6 (West 1998). A juvenile disposition will not be reversed absent a showing of an abuse of discretion. Such abuse occurs when the juvenile courts action is clearly erroneous and against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court, or the reasonable, probable, and actual deductions to be drawn therefrom. E.H. v. State, 764 N.E.2d 681.
E.L. argues that the unwritten policy adhered to in the Marion County Juvenile Court, in which juvenile offenders who have previously been committed to the Department of Correction are recommitted upon a subsequent offense, is contrary to the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system, strips the Magistrate of the ability to make an individualized sentencing determination and an independent assessment of the best placement for the juvenile, and impermissibly shifts the focus from what is the least restrictive and most appropriate setting for a juvenile. Appellants Brief at 6. In sum, E.L. contends that the court abused its discretion because commitment to the Department of Correction was not warranted on these facts, not in [E.L.s] best interest, not necessary for the safety of the community, not the least restrictive and most family like setting, and not the least disruptive of family life. Id. at 13.
The statutory scheme for dealing with juveniles is markedly different from the statutory scheme for sentencing adults who commit crimes. E.H. v. State, 764 N.E.2d 681. American society favors individual diagnosis and treatment of juvenile offenders. It is therefore the policy of this State to ensure that children within the juvenile justice system are treated as persons in need of care, protection, treatment, and rehabilitation. Id. at 685 (internal quotations omitted). In this vein, IC § 31-37-18-6 specifically provides:
If consistent with the safety of the community and the best interest of the child, the juvenile court shall enter a dispositional decree that:
in the least restrictive (most family like) and most appropriate setting available; and
close to the parents home, consistent with the best interest and special needs of the child;
least interferes with family autonomy;
is least disruptive of family life;
imposes the least restraint on the freedom of the child and the childs parent, guardian, or custodian; and
provides a reasonable opportunity for participation by the childs parent, guardian, or custodian.
While a juvenile court has wide latitude and great flexibility in dealing with juveniles, its goal is to rehabilitate rather than to punish. E.H. v. State, 764 N.E.2d at 685. Further, commitment to the Department of Correction should be resorted to only if less severe dispositions are inadequate. See M.R. v. State, 605 N.E.2d 204 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992).
In the instant case, the magistrates comments reveal that she felt constrained, to a certain extent, by the courts policy of recommitment and began with a strong presumption that E.L. should be recommitted to the Department of Correction (the most severe disposition available). See footnote While recommitment ultimately may be an appropriate disposition in many instances where a juvenile reoffends after a previous commitment to the Department of Correction, applying a presumption of recommitment in such cases runs the risk of frustrating the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system and necessarily shifts the focus away from less restrictive alternatives. In each case, the mission of the juvenile court must be to make an individualized determination of the most appropriate and least restrictive disposition, considering the best interest of the juvenile as well as the safety of the community. The juvenile courts policy, which effectively creates a presumptive disposition, runs counter to the courts duty to make an individualized determination in each case.
Here, the evidence reveals that despite a rocky start in her early teens E.L. started to turn her life around upon her release from the Department of Correction on October 29, 1999. For over two years, E.L. remained out of the juvenile justice system, actively participating in school, maintaining a positive attitude, and working extensively with service providers to create a better life for herself and her child. The magistrate acknowledged this and specifically stated that she was impressed with E.L.s progress and described E.L. as an intelligent woman with much potential.
Although agreeing with everything E.L.s counsel said at the hearing, the magistrate concluded that she was obliged to follow the courts policy. Transcript at 25. Following the policy necessarily meant that E.L. would be unable to graduate from Pike High School in December 2002, would be unable to continue working toward independent living with Knapp-Reese, and would be unable to care for and work towards supporting her daughter for a significant period of time. Further, the magistrates statement reveals that she recognized the risk that recommitment would negatively impact E.L.s considerable progress. See footnote
We conclude that the juvenile court abused its discretion by following its policy of recommitment. Committing E.L. to the Department of Correction for a recommended term of one year conflicted with the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system and was not necessary for the safety of the community and was not in E.Ls or her daughters best interests. Less restrictive options, such as probation with court-ordered counseling, existed at the time of the dispositional decree that would have effectively addressed E.L.s recent misstep, while keeping her on her positive course and with her daughter. Accordingly, we remand with instructions to the juvenile court to vacate its dispositional decree.
Dispositional decree vacated.
NAJAM, J., and SHARPNACK, J., concur.
So, Im, Im, Im obliged, by this Courts policy for the reasons
that Ive given you, to follow that policy.
And I pray, I
pray to the good Lord that this will not change your attitude and
the course that you set for yourself. Keeping in mind that if
you maintain that attitude, I think, that regardless of my recommendation, because of
your age and the other things that Ive mentioned, and weve talked about
today, you can be back in your programs very quickly. So, I
must, for the reasons Ive explained to you, follow the Courts policy, with
a prayer in my heart that this will not change what youve been
Transcript at 25-26 (emphasis supplied).