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14-year-old likely to get second chance with loophole in Indiana gun law

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH)– The case of “M.H.” a 14-year-old who was caught by Elkhart police with a handgun after trespassing, is likely to get a second chance in the Indiana Supreme Court due to a loophole in the law.

“If it’s wrong for an adult to do it, and a child does it, then that child goes to juvenile court,” said Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor. “The problem in this particular case of M.H., is that the law that M.H. was accused of violating was a law that pertained only to juveniles. So juvenile court said, ‘We don’t have jurisdiction.’”

According to documents, prosecutors try to charge the teen with dangerous possession of a firearm, but at the time of the crime there was no such charge that existed for an adult. It means the teen couldn’t be charged and so the Indiana Court of Appeals threw out criminal charges.

“The legislature didn’t do its homework,” Drobac said. They “then tried to make it right, and they passed another law saying that if a juvenile carries a weapon, it means they are automatically a delinquent. And so, juvenile court has jurisdiction.” 

At that point, Drobac says it was too late to charge M.H.

“Let’s say the legislature said that it’s illegal to drive on Tuesdays. Anybody who drives on Tuesdays, that’s a violation of law. Then the prosecutor’s office and the police start arresting everybody who’s ever driven on Tuesday,” she explained. “Well, you and I have driven on Tuesday, but when we drove on Tuesday, we didn’t know it was going to be against the law later. That’s an ex post facto law.”

The case now heads to the Indiana Supreme Court where arguments will be heard starting on Thursday at 10 a.m.

“They couldn’t scoop in the child that they were trying to prosecute, because they made this emergency fix after he had already acted,” Drobac said. “So basically, this particular child is going to get a second chance and I hope he uses it to good advantage.”