By Judge Jim Redwine
Indiana has three general classes of juvenile cases. If one is under eighteen he or she may come into contact with the court because of abuse or neglect by some adult, usually a parent. If the child has run afoul of a law directed only at children, such as curfew or truancy violations, we call these status offenses. And if persons under eighteen commit acts that would constitute a crime if the children were adults, they fall within the definition of juvenile delinquency.
We call abuse and neglect cases by the acronym CHINS, i.e., Children in Need of Services. These are normally processed by the Department of Family and Children Services. Status offenses are frequently handled informally by the court’s probation department under the auspices of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. Juvenile delinquency matters usually result in formal court appearances for the child and his or her parents. The Prosecuting Attorney brings these cases to the court’s attention based on police reports and preliminary inquiries by the probation department.
Although the distinction of cases as juvenile or adult had its formal American appearance in the late 19th Century, we humans have always recognized that different standards of behavior apply to children and adults. It does not take a philosopher or a judge to make such a judgment. As long as one is old enough to have once been a child himself or herself that is all it takes to know there is a difference.
In fact, most of us are aware that it is mere fortune our childhoods turned out as they did. It is rare indeed that a mature adult attributes his or her good luck exclusively to their own efforts. Rather, most of us spend at least some significant time reflecting on the miracle that life turns out as it does.
This prologue is to begin the discussion of issues of juvenile behavior as framed by law. It is not merely to, “Suffer the little children …”, but instead is to encourage an exchange of views. For example, in a juvenile delinquency case I handled a few years ago involving three boys who had taken a rowboat tied to a stump near the Wabash River, the father of one boy explained juvenile behavior this way:
“Judge, you know, when you have one boy you usually have a pretty good boy. But, if you get two boys together, you have about half a boy. And, if you get three boys, you don’t have any boy at all.”
Having been a boy, I thoroughly understood.
By Judge Jim Redwine
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