Appellate Court Affirms Teenager’s Delinquency Adjudication

Full Article

The Indiana Lawyer on April 13, 2017 by Olivia Covington

The Marion Superior Court properly adjudicated an Indianapolis teenager as a delinquent on theft and trespassing charges, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided Thursday, holding the court’s true findings were supported by sufficient evidence.

In December 2015, Lashawn Rogers was at an Indianapolis gas station buying cookies for her granddaughter when she tripped over a concrete parking curb and dropped several items, including her electronic key fob that allowed her to operate her car. After a teenage boy helped her up, Rogers went in the gas station and later saw the teenage boy and a teenage girl driving off with her vehicle.

Rogers’ cellphone was stolen along with the vehicle, so she deactivated it and purchased a new one. As her new phone synced with her cloud storage, Rogers discovered that the thieves had used her old phone to take photos of themselves. Rogers printed out the photos and showed them to her family and friends, who were eventually able to identify the teenagers as students at Lawrence Central High School.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department detective Kevin Kern went to the school and eventually identified the male teenager as H.J. and the female teenager as S.M. During a conversation at her home, S.M. denied involvement in the theft and directed Kern to the alibi witness of her friend, D.G.

The state filed a petition alleging S.M. to be a delinquent child for acts that would be considered Level 6 felony theft and Class A misdemeanor criminal trespass if committed by an adult. During the trial, Kern revealed, to the parties’ surprise, he had recorded nine interviews that had not been disclosed to the respondents, including the interviews with S.M. and D.G.

After the parties were given the opportunity to review the interviews, the Marion Superior Court found both allegations true as to S.M., adjudicated her as a delinquent on those charges and placed her on probation. On appeal in S.M. v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1609-JV-2035, S.M. argued that the true findings were not supported by sufficient evidence.

Specifically, S.M. challenged Rogers’ identification of her as one of the teenagers at the gas station, but Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias wrote that Rogers’ had three opportunities to observe S.M. – when she pulled into the gas station, when she tripped and H.L. offered to help, and when she saw S.M. driving away in the truck.

“The impression produced by those observations was clear and distinct enough that Rogers, without prompting or suggestion by the State’s agents, was able to pick out S.M. from a collection of 10 to 20 pictures showing two to three different teenaged girls,” Mathias wrote. Rogers then identified S.M. at the delinquency hearing as the girl at the gas station. If believed, Rogers’ testimony established S.M.’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“Presented with no argument that Rogers’ testimony was incredibly dubious, and certain that such an argument would fail even if presented, we will not disturb the court’s judgment,” Mathias continued.