Fundamental Fairness To The Child Demands The Unique Expertise Of A Juvenile Judge

In the case of In re C.P., 131 Ohio St.3d 513, 2012-Ohio- 1446, 967 N.E.2d 729, the Supreme Court of Ohio in 2012 held that due process was violated by the automatic imposition of juvenile sex offender classification under R.C. 2152.86.  The Court went on to state that automatic classification, “undercuts the rehabilitative purpose of Ohio’s juvenile system and eliminates the important role of the juvenile court’s discretion in the disposition of juvenile offenders.”  Automatic classification leaves no room for the juvenile court judge to determine whether the juvenile offender has responded to rehabilitation or whether he/she remains a threat to society.

This is especially true due to the fact that the automatically imposed punishment (sex offender classification) lasts far longer than the jurisdiction of the juvenile court (age 21).  Thus, automatic classification eliminates the essential element of the judge’s discretion.

In re D.S., 146 Ohio St.3d 182, 2016-Ohio-1027, 54 N.E.3d 1184, 2016 LEXIS 728, the Ohio Supreme Court in 2016 again relied upon In re C.P. and held that the juvenile court must make a determination of the juvenile sex offenders age eligibility before or during the sex offender classification hearing and prior to subjecting the child offender to registration and notification requirements under R.C. 2152.82 through 2152.86 and R.C. Chapter 2950.  The Court further stated that when it comes to juvenile offenders facing penalties into adulthood, “[f]undamental fairness requires that the judge decide the appropriateness of any such penalty.”

The Court In re D.S. also held that imposition of the juvenile offender registrant status under R.C. 2152.82 or 2152.83 did not violate due process because the statute included sufficient procedural protections to satisfy the requirement of fundamental fairness.  The Court noted that R.C. 2152.84 also provides for the juvenile court judge to conduct a review hearing upon the completion of disposition by the juvenile sex offender.  Therefore, the juvenile judge retained the discretion, “to determine whether the prior classification of the child as a juvenile offender registrant should be continued or terminated” or modified.

The Court further noted that the juvenile court also maintains jurisdiction to periodically review the juvenile offender’s registrant status.  The juvenile offender may petition the juvenile court three (3) years later to request reclassification to a lower tier or to terminate the registration requirement altogether.  The statute permits additional opportunities for review, first after another three (3) year period, and then every five (5) years thereafter.  (See R.C. 2152.85.)  Accordingly, this is consistent with the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile system.

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