Guns and Juveniles

An interesting case interpreting Indiana's juvenile justice law.


From K.C.G. v. State, decided Monday by the Indiana Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Slaughter:

Under Indiana law, only juvenile courts have power to adjudicate a child a delinquent. The delinquency alleged here is that respondent, K.C.G., age 16, committed the offense of dangerous possession of a firearm….

[But j]uvenile courts have "exclusive original jurisdiction" to hear proceedings in which the State alleges that a child committed "an act that would be an offense"—a crime—"if committed by an adult." Yet under the governing statute, an adult can never commit this offense. The statute defines the offense solely in terms of a "child" with an unauthorized firearm…. [W]e vacate K.C.G.'s delinquency adjudication ….

In November 2018, K.C.G. stole a car, crashed it, and fled the scene. After police caught him, they searched his person and found marijuana. The State alleged that K.C.G. committed four delinquent acts, and the parties agreed that K.C.G. would admit to two delinquent acts in exchange for the State dismissing the other two. The juvenile court accepted the agreement, placed K.C.G. on probation, and, relevant here, ordered him to attend a day-reporting program, which offers a structured setting for rehabilitating juvenile offenders.

The rehabilitation did not last long. A week into his program, K.C.G. told others at his day-reporting site that he had a gun and a bomb and threatened to use one of them. His probation officer, along with police, went to his home and searched his bedroom. During the search, police found a rifle and arrested K.C.G. The State later filed a delinquency petition alleging he had violated the dangerous-possession-of-a-firearm statute, Ind. Code § 35-47-10-5. After a hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated him a delinquent on this latest charge and modified his probation. The court again placed K.C.G. on probation, this time with a suspended commitment to the department of correction….

Juvenile courts, as creatures of statute, can adjudicate only those disputes our legislature has authorized…. Relevant here, juvenile courts have "exclusive original jurisdiction" over proceedings in which a "child"—a person less than 18 years of age—… commit[ted] a "delinquent act" …, defined as an act "that would be an offense if committed by an adult." …

Here, … [t]he alleged conduct, according to the State, was misdemeanor "dangerous possession of a firearm." Yet the dangerous-possession statute defines the offense in terms of a "child" who "knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly possesses a firearm for any purpose other than a purpose described in [IC 35-47-10-1]." This provision is clear and applies only to children; adults cannot commit dangerous possession of a firearm. Thus, K.C.G.'s alleged possession of a firearm could never be an offense committed by an adult, and the State's nominal allegation that K.C.G. is a "delinquent child" because he committed a "delinquent act" failed as a matter of law, meaning the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction.

Perhaps anticipating our "means-what-it-says" interpretive approach, the State points to the second sentence in Subsection 35-47-10-5(a), which provides for an enhancement to a Level 5 felony for a juvenile adjudged delinquent for the dangerous-possession offense: "However, the offense is a Level 5 felony if the child … has been adjudicated a delinquent for an act that would be an offense under this section if committed by an adult." According to the State, this provision shows the legislature intended that juveniles can be adjudicated delinquent for violating this statute.

The State's position is not without force, and it has the virtue of reflecting prevailing law as announced by our court of appeals. But we decline to embrace that approach. Rather than crediting the asserted intent behind the criminal statute, we give dispositive weight to the plain language of the jurisdictional statute. As shown above, the jurisdictional statute establishes that the State must allege the child committed an "act that would be an offense if committed by an adult." Even if the State were correct about legislative intent, we decline to ignore the clear jurisdictional mandate of Section 31-30-1-1 based on an inference from an entirely separate statute.

Our position finds further support from the fact that we have long interpreted criminal statutes strictly against the State, and it is undisputed that the statute at issue here defines a crime with possible penal consequences…. When the legislature is imprecise, the State does not get the benefit of the doubt….

Finally, we address the absurdity doctrine—a narrow, limited exception to our interpretive canon that a statute's plain meaning controls. For the absurdity doctrine to apply, we require two showings. First, "the text must impose an outcome no reasonable person could intend"; and, second, a court must be able to fix the resulting absurdity by "changing or supplying a particular word or phrase whose inclusion or omission was obviously a technical or ministerial error."

We hold that the doctrine fails on the second prong. We could not "fix" the alleged absurdity here merely by changing or supplying a word or phrase. Any judicial fix would require that we expand the dangerous-possession statute's potential class of offenders to include adults with unauthorized firearms. Yet this proposed revision would implicate not only separation of powers by rewriting the legislature's narrow enactment but also perhaps the Second Amendment by treating even protected firearms as potentially off limits to adults….. Thus, we reject the absurdity doctrine on this record and interpret the dangerous-possession statute not to apply to adults.

* * *

For these reasons, we hold that the juvenile court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The State's petition did not (because, as a matter of law, it could not) allege a jurisdictional prerequisite—that K.C.G.'s conduct was "an act that would be an offense if committed by an adult." We vacate the juvenile court's adjudication of K.C.G. as a delinquent child for dangerously possessing a firearm, as well as its modification of his probation based on that holding….


NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: November 19, 1969

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  1. The juvenile court on remand could probably modify his probation on the original offense without formally convicting him of a new one.

    And for the future, the Indiana legislature would be wise to clarify which court has jurisdiction over offenses that can only be committed by juveniles.

  2. It seems a shame to cut short the promising career of someone who is clearly on a path to political greatness because of a few words spoken in jest.

    Just like it would be a shame to call an eighteen year old a child, for legal purposes. The law needs to catch up with the times. Childhood stops somewhere between 11 and 13 at the lastest.

    1. When someone has stolen a car, crashed it, and fled, I would hardly call claiming to have a rifle and a bomb and threatening to use them “a few words spoken in jest.”

      1. Perhaps, maybe, possibly .... sarcasm?

        1. Even I don't know any more.
          This morning's caustic sarcasm is this evening's favorable headline.

      2. The statement he "had a gun and a bomb" wasn't true, and a statement isn't half-true if one common part of it is later found to have some basis. DA officials should have focused on the threat, not the items.

    2. The day they make stealing a car and evading the police a crime, is the day they make all of us criminals!

  3. What is actually going on here? Is the law trying to create a new class of legally actionable events, called “delinquencies”, where a juvenile performs an action that would have been called an “offense” if done by an adult — and forgetting to give a name or a jurisdiction to actions that were only forbidden to children?

    1. I suspect the legislature made a mistake. People do that sometimes.

      1. It would have been instructive if the author had spent a few words explaining what Indiana court, if any, has jurisdiction over crimes that are crimes only when minors commit them.

        1. I find it amusing that they all but admitted in the decision itself that their conclusion was absurd. They only said that the statute couldn't be fixed by the courts.

          The concept that no court has jurisdiction over an entire category of cases is baffling and I am dumber for having read that.

          That being said, the obvious remedy is to change the charge from possession of a firearm to violation of parole and terroristic threats.

  4. So what happens now in this Catch 22 example (of which there are many in the legal system in this country). It would seem that although the law as written stands, it can never be enforced. If so, once again we have a reason, probably reason 22,567 of the utter incompetence of our elected officials.

    1. Better seen as an example of how absurd government is and how it can never be done competently.

    2. Oh, it can be enforced, in cases where a juvenile does something that would have been illegal if they'd been an adult. They just screwed up drafting the law, so that the juvenile courts lack jurisdiction over acts that are only illegal due to age.

      Simple enough to fix with an amendment.

    3. It seems to me it can be enforced in the normal court of general jurisdiction. It's the "exclusive original jurisdiction" of juvenile courts that normally strip it, but if that doesn't apply then there doesn't seem to be a barrier.

    4. Or else R.C.G. will be tried as an adult in whatever court has general jurisdiction over criminal matters. In which case he'll have succeeded in jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Well done, R.C.G.'s counsel.

  5. Seems young K.C.G. could be prosecuted in Federal Court for possessing a firearm in violation of 18 USC 922 (g)(3), as " unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802));".

    No age limit on that.

    1. Tricky.

      First, it says only that they found marijuana, not that they confirmed he was using it, and the statute says "unlawful user of or addicted to", not "possessor of".

      Secondly, well, (g)(3) should be thrown out as obviously repugnant to the Second Amendment, frankly. There's no exception to "the people" for "but druuuuuugs", and the War On Drugs Which Are So Scary doesn't justify either prohibition-without-an-amendment or disarming (or removing any other civil right) people for ingesting any substance, no matter how illegal.

      (People who Do Dangerous Bad Stuff With Guns While High get disarmed anyway by getting felony convictions.

      (g)(3) is drug war bullshit to "get them on something even though they haven't committed a crime with a firearm as such".

      If there was a serious general problem with "people who are addicted to anything or get high, having guns", it'd be illegal to possess them while being an alcoholic or while drinking.

      It is not, so see above, "but druuuuugs".)

  6. I'm curious what is the driving force here.

    Is it simply a "delinquent" in possession of a weapon?

    If so, why is that different from a felon in possession of a weapon (which can be prohibited)?

    Is it simply a person under the state's age limit for possession of a weapon?

    Seems like that's a constitutional restriction.

    Just not sure what exactly the issue is.

    1. The issue is that the law setting up the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system, only gave it jurisdiction over actions "which would be a crime if the juvenile were an adult".

      But underaged gun possession is NOT an act which would be a crime if the juvenile were an adult. It's only a crime because the juvenile isn't an adult.

      And so, by the literal terms of the statute, the juvenile court has no jurisdiction here. Wouldn't have jurisdiction over underaged drinking, either, by the same reasoning.

    2. The intent, I guess, was that the juvenile justice system could treat criminal acts by minors as "delinquency", rather than the actual crime in question, allowing some degree of leniency.

      But since the same law prohibits the regular courts from having jurisdiction over juveniles, the literal interpretation of the statute is that NO state court has jurisdiction over offenses that are defined by the juvenile being too young for something. The regular courts lack jurisdiction due to their being juveniles, and the juvenile courts lack it due to the offense not being a crime if they were an adult.

      "Underaged" whatever thus falls into a legal limbo, no state court permitted to hear the cases.

      1. But - in this case specifically - isn't it a crime for a felon (i.e. adult) to be in possession of a weapon?

        1. I don't see any indication that he was a convicted felon, but in any case, he wasn't charged with being a felon in possession, he was charged with being a minor in possession.

          1. That's what I don't get. This is very much going from frying pan into the fire, as they could get him on the parole violation, plus even worse crimes like terroristic threats.

            What kind of idiot would do this appeal? He very much won the battle but lost the war.

  7. Yet another lawyer fiction. Adolescents are less capable than adults. First, adulthood starts at 14, according to nature, to all religions, and to 10000 years of human civilization.

    Second, adolescents are superior in function to adults in every way. See the videos of their physical antics on YouTube. Their mental functions are as superior as their physical ones. That includes morality. They commit fewer crimes than adults.

    Third, people do not change much. Kindergarten students accurately identify which of their peers will become criminals. The idiot and its agents, the police, lawyer cannot do that.

    That superior people should be coddled or privileged is ridiculous. We are sick of you lawyers imposing fictitious, stupid doctrines, that put the public safety at risk. The lawyer profession must be crushed if crime is to eve rbe controlled. Right now, the criminal law is in utter failure. It allows 15 million common law crimes, many by juveniles who are out of control. It allows billions of internet crimes, many committed by superior juveniles from the ghetto. Then when they have a guy, 20% of the time, it is the wrong guy. They force this innocent guy accept a plea deal to avoid gambling with worse consequences. You lawyers must be stopped to serve our nation. You stink. What is worse is that you stink in service of big government worthless make work jobs rent seeking. You stink in bad faith, not in incompetence.

  8. David,
    It's time to take your meds.

    1. That is a stale KGB personal insult, that a dissenter from your denial of reality is mentally. You lawyers have supernatural beliefs, from the 13th Century. That is really sick. You believe minds can be read. You believe the future can be foretold. You believe standards of conduct should be based on the character of a fictitious person. This is not insanity, although it is delusional. This is evil in furtherance of your rent seeking agenda. Your profession must be crushed to save this nation. You are not sick. You are pure evil.

      1. David,
        You must really have been screwed by your wife's divorce attorney.

        1. I have greatly benefited from lawyer rent seeking, up to 30% of my income.

      2. Jesus Loves You.

  9. I'm really happy this future Nobel winner was vindicated.

    1. Maybe if Obama had a son it would be that kid (err...guy?)

  10. Interesting, so a Minor in Possession of Alcohol; HAS to be sent to District Court, not Juvenile Court. Juvenile Court has NO Jurisdiction. It's not a crime for an Adult to possess alcohol. The Law is an ass defense. Tricky.

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