Ohio Supreme Court Rules That Constitution Does Not Prohibit Imposition of Prison Sentence for Juveniles

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the invocation of an adult prison sentence upon a juvenile does not violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 10 and 16 of the Ohio Constitution.

The case is In re J.V., Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-4961.

The facts are relatively simple.  In June 2005, pursuant to a plea agreement, a trial court imposed a blended sentence on the juvenile:  at least two years of incarceration at the Ohio Department of Youth Services (“ODYS”) and a stayed adult sentence of three years.  As a result of a fight at the DYS facility, the trial court invoked the stayed adult prison sentence.

Under Ohio law, a juvenile court may invoke the adult portion of a serious youthful offender’s sentence for failure to successfully complete the traditional juvenile disposition.   The conduct that can result in the enforcement of an adult sentence includes committing, while in custody or on parole, an act that is a violation of the rules of the institution or the conditions of supervision and that could be charged as any felony or as a first degree misdemeanor offense of violence if committed by an adult, or engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk to the safety or security of the institution, the community, or the victim

The juvenile court must hold a hearing, and the juvenile has the right to counsel and to present evidence on his behalf.

The Juvenile argued that the judicial fact-finding necessary to invoke the stayed adult sentence violates his right to a trial by jury.

Under a United States Supreme Court decision, Apprendi v. Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490, “Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The court held that this case was inapplicable, because “when the juvenile court invoked the stayed sentence because [the juvenile] did not successfully complete his juvenile disposition, the judge did not increase [his] sentence; he merely removed the stay.  The sentence had already been imposed.”   In other words, “Even if the adult portion of the disposition is ‘only a potential sentence,’ the fact remains that [the juvenile] had been sentenced, and the juvenile court merely removed the stay of that sentence.”  Citing In re. D.H., 120 Ohio St.3d 540, 2009-Ohio-9.  The right to a jury trial, under this view, is not implicated because the juvenile court did not increase a sentence that had been previously imposed.

The court also noted that the right to a jury trial may not be applicable because juveniles do not enjoy a right to a trial by jury.

 

Second, the Juvenile argued that the burden of proof should be the heightened “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of criminal trials rather than the lesser “clear and convincing” standard of the statute.

The court noted, as with the jury trial issue, that “juvenile proceedings are fundamentally different from adult criminal trials.”  The right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt is an element of a criminal trial.  In this case, however, the court did not “view the invocation proceeding as similar to a full-blown adult criminal trial.”  Instead, the court viewed the “invocation proceeding as similar to the proceedings incident to a criminal court’s imposition of a suspended sentence.”

A trial court may decide without proof beyond a reasonable doubt whether to impose a suspended additional prison term.  The United States Supreme Court has stated that “there is no right to a jury trial before probation may be revoked.”  Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420, 435 (1984).  The court explained:

Because the invocation proceeding is not a criminal proceeding, the fact-finding need not be according to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard required in criminal trials.  The clear-and-convincing-evidence standard . . . is less rigorous, though stronger than a mere preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.  . . . We conclude that there is nothing fundamentally unfair about a statutory scheme that authorizes a judge to reach conclusions about facts according to a clear-and-convincing-evidence standard.

The court remanded the case on a non-constitutional issue.  Juvenile courts have jurisdiction over adjudicated delinquents until they are 21 years old, and do not have jurisdiction over adjudicated delinquents once they are 21 years old.  Because the Juvenile in this case was over 21, the juvenile court acted outside its jurisdiction and therefore that the disposition was void.

 

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