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Friday, August 07, 2015

Ind. Courts - "No public access at hearing for Elkhart girl accused in stabbing"

A story today in the South Bend Tribune, reported by Christian Sheckler, begins:

A 12-year-old girl accused of stabbing and killing her stepmother at an Elkhart apartment complex last month was scheduled to appear before a magistrate today for a hearing that was set to be closed to the public amid safety concerns.

Authorities have said the girl stabbed to death 50-year-old Maria Torres at the family’s Prairie Street apartment after an argument July 23. The girl is charged with the juvenile equivalent of murder, an accusation that would normally open her court proceedings to the public and media under Indiana law.

Citing “mental health concerns and safety concerns,” Elkhart Circuit Court Juvenile Magistrate Deborah Domine ordered the girl’s initial hearing to be held at the county’s Juvenile Detention Center in Goshen, instead of in a courtroom, so that the girl would not have to be transported to Elkhart and back.

Because the detention center is restricted to the public, the hearing would be closed, Domine said Thursday. She acknowledged that provisions in state law call for court proceedings in juvenile murder cases to be open, but pointed to Indiana Supreme Court opinions that give juvenile courts wide latitude.

“The code says one thing, but the Supreme Court has interpreted the code generally to allow flexibility to protect the best interests of the child,” Domine told The Tribune. “In this instance, when it is a five-minute hearing, I believe safety is paramount to any other obligation.”

More from the story:
Not everyone agreed that Domine was correct in excluding the public from the hearing. Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, said the law was clear.

“The intent of the General Assembly when they changed the statute years ago is the public has the right to know what’s going on in juvenile proceedings when an offense, such as murder, would be a felony if committed by an adult,” Key said. “The legislature specifically has made changes to open to public view how juvenile courts are operating.”

The fact that the court decided to conduct the hearing in a facility that isn’t typically open to the public does not change the public status of a hearing, Key said. For example, he said, a judge could conduct a hearing outside because the courthouse air conditioning is broken, and such a hearing would be just as public as if it were conducted in the courtroom.

For juveniles accused of murder or other offenses that would be felonies for adults, the state law requires open court proceedings except in a few circumstances, such as during sensitive testimony by child witnesses, child victims, doctors, therapists and counselors.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 7, 2015 09:17 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts