Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Paul H. Gingerich, a 12-year-old child who was transferred to adult court and entered a guilty plea without the court inquiring into his competency at any phase in the proceedings. It is established law that when the judicial process puts the rights of a child or adult who is incompetent in jeopardy, due process is violated. However, the trial court completely ignored issues of 12-year-old Gingerich’s competence at both the transfer phase and when it accepted Gingerich’s guilty plea. Courts increasingly rely on principles of adolescent development to inform their decisions with regard to how immaturity and lack of experience hinder children's ability to fully understand, protect and exercise their rights. A decision which disregards strong evidence that a 12-year-old child is incompetent raises serious concerns about due process and fundamental fairness.
Juvenile Law Center’s brief argued that the trial court thus failed to adequately protect the due process rights of Paul Gingerich. In particular, the court failed in its obligation at three pivotal points in these proceedings to assure that Paul was competent: prior to the initiation of the transfer hearing, at the transfer hearing itself and prior to acceptance of the plea agreement. The failure of the court to address the issue of competency violates the due process clause of the United States Constitution as well as Indiana law. This failure resulted in fundamentally unfair proceedings in juvenile and criminal court that can only be remedied by vacating the plea agreement.
On December 11, 2012, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the conviction of Paul Gingerich, and remanded the case for proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court found that the juvenile court abused its discretion by denying a continuance of the waiver hearing, which was scheduled for four business days after counsel was appointed. The Court emphasized that juvenile waiver hearings are not “perfunctory proceedings” and that due process requires that child defendants at waiver proceedings be afforded sufficient time to prepare a defense addressing both evidence of criminality as well as whether waiver would not be in the best interests of the child and the safety and welfare of the community.
The Court noted the specific instances identified by Mr. Gingerich that the lack of time to prepare prejudiced him, including the failure to investigate his competence to stand trial at the time and the ability to refute faulty testimony regarding the availability of placements in the juvenile system. Additionally, the Court determined that Mr. Gingerich did not waive his right to appeal by entering a plea in the adult court because the adult court did not have proper jurisdiction due to the defective transfer.
On March 7, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear the case.