Fundamentally Unfair To Treat Juvenile Adjudications As A Previous Conviction

In State v. Hand (2016), 149 Ohio St.3d 94, 2016-Ohio-5504, 73 N.E.3d 448, 2016 Ohio LEXIS 2106, the Supreme Court of Ohio in August 2016 held that using a juvenile’s previous delinquency adjudication to count as a previous “conviction” in order to enhance the charging offense or sentence in a subsequent adult criminal proceeding violated the Due Process Clauses of the Ohio Constitution, Article I, Section 16, and the United States Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment.  The Court further held that it was fundamentally unfair to treat a juvenile adjudication as a previous conviction for a subsequent criminal offense committed as a juvenile because juveniles were not afforded the right to a jury trial.

Consistently, the Supreme Court of Ohio has acknowledged that juvenile courts hold a unique place in our legal system.  Namely, that the overriding purposes for juvenile dispositions are to provide for the care, protection, mental and physical development of children, protect the public interest and safety, hold the offender accountable for the offender’s actions, restore the victim, and rehabilitate the offender.  (See Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 2152.)  In contrast, the purposes of adult felony sentencing are to protect the public from future crime by the offender and others, and to punish the offender.  (See ORC, Section 2929.11 (A).)  In summary, juvenile adjudication differs from criminal sentencing — one is civil and rehabilitative, the other is criminal and punitive.

Previously, in 2000, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), determined that 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 U.S. Supreme Court demanded no less of state statutes, such as the Ohio Revised Code.  A prior “conviction” must itself have been established through procedures satisfying the fair notice, reasonable doubt, and jury guarantees.  Consequently, the proper inquiry under Apprendi is not simply whether juvenile adjudications are deemed to be reliable, but whether the juveniles were afforded the right to a jury trial.

In Hand, the Supreme Court of Ohio also reasoned that the right to a jury trial is no mere procedural formality, but a fundamental reservation of power in our constitutional structure.  Furthermore, that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee a jury standing between a defendant and the power of the State, and they guarantee a jury’s finding of the disputed fact essential to increase the ceiling of a potential sentence.  That is, the jury trial right is primarily focused on preventing the State (prosecution) from drawing conclusions from the facts without using a jury.  The Court concluded that because a juvenile “adjudication” is not established through a procedure that provides the right to a jury trial, it cannot be used to increase a sentence beyond the statutory maximum or mandatory minimum.

Accordingly, it is contradictory and fundamentally unfair to allow juvenile adjudications that result from these less formal civil proceedings to be characterized as criminal convictions that may later enhance adult punishment for a subsequent adult criminal offense.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Ohio in Hand held that treating a juvenile adjudication as an adult conviction to enhance a sentence for a later crime is inconsistent with Ohio’s system for juveniles, which is predicated on the fact that children are not as culpable for their acts as adults and should be rehabilitated rather than punished.  Under Apprendi, using a prior conviction to enhance a sentence does not violate the constitutional right to due process, because the prior process involved the right to a jury trial.  Juveniles, however, are not afforded the right to a jury trial.  Quite simply, a juvenile adjudication is not a conviction of a crime and should not be treated as one.

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.

The 5 Essential Elements for Obstructing Justice Under Ohio Law

Recently, the Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals reaffirmed long standing precedent in regard to the criminal offense of Obstructing Official Business as contained in Ohio Revised Code Section 2921.31.  The court acknowledged that historically it required evidence reflecting “affirmative acts, not oral statements or inaction, which hamper or impede a public official in the performance of lawful duties.”  The court further stated that even if there were such an affirmative act, the State still must prove not only that the act was committed with an intent to obstruct the officers, but also that the defendant succeeded in actually hampering or impeding them.  See State of Ohio v. Douglas M. Morris, 2016-Ohio-8325 (decided 12/22/2016).

The Uncertainty of Ohio’s New Marijuana Law

On June 6, 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 523 into law which legalized medical marijuana in the State of Ohio.  House Bill 523 allows Ohio citizens suffering from approximately 20 medical conditions to use and possess a ninety (90) day supply of medical marijuana in various forms, such as oils, tinctures, edibles, plant materials, and patches.  While Ohio patients will be able to purchase plant material, there is a prohibition on smoking medical marijuana.  The law will also limit tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in plant material to 30%, while placing a cap on THC content in extracts at 70%.  Further regulations are to be adopted by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy.  (More updates to follow as the new law develops.)