Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Juvenile Court’s Application of Law Designed to Protect Trafficked Children Questioned

Image of a woman with her head in her hands as if she is upset

Ohio law offers protections for children when a juvenile court “has reason to believe” a child is a human trafficking victim and the alleged offenses are related to the victimization.

Image of a woman with her head in her hands as if she is upset

Ohio law offers protections for children when a juvenile court “has reason to believe” a child is a human trafficking victim and the alleged offenses are related to the victimization.

A young woman charged with murder at age 15 argues that the juvenile court should have applied safe harbor protections in state law to her, as a trafficking victim, before transferring her to adult court. Those protections require the court to appoint a guardian ad litem and allow it to hold a hearing to decide whether a juvenile would benefit from options outside the criminal justice system.

The appeal from Summit County, State v. Martin, will be considered by the Ohio Supreme Court next week during three days of oral arguments.

Juvenile Court Sends Case to Adult Court
In 2013, prosecutors charged Alexis Martin with murder, attempted murder, and other crimes for her role with three others in planning the burglary of Angelo Kerney’s home in Akron. During the burglary, Kerney was shot and killed, and Alecio Samuel was shot and seriously injured.

During the amenability hearing, which explores whether a youth would be responsive to rehabilitation in the juvenile system, a psychologist testified that Martin may be a victim of human trafficking. The judge asked the lawyers to weigh in on the importance of that factor in deciding whether to keep Martin in juvenile court. However, the court found that Martin wouldn’t benefit from rehabilitation in the juvenile system and transferred the case to common pleas court to try her as an adult.

After the state dismissed several charges, Martin agreed to plead guilty to murder and felonious assault. The court sentenced her to 21 years to life in prison.

Did Anti-Trafficking Safe Harbor Law Apply to This Case?
Ohio’s safe harbor protections in R.C. 2152.021(F) kick in when a juvenile court “has reason to believe” the child is a human trafficking victim and the alleged offenses are related to the child’s victimization.

The Summit County prosecutor alleged that Martin and the other female perpetrator distracted Kerney and Samuel with sex, so that the armed males could enter the house to rob Kerney and Samuel, which led to the shootings. An evaluation submitted to the court stated that Kerney sold Martin when she was 14 years old to others for sex, forced her to dance at strip clubs, and made her collect money from other girls he was trafficking.

Because the juvenile court believed Martin was a human trafficking victim and the report showed a connection between the trafficking and the crimes, the court had to appoint a guardian ad litem to protect her interests and should have considered holding a hearing on the trafficking issue before transferring her for adult prosecution, she argues.

The prosecutor counters that the law doesn’t give protections to juveniles, like Martin, who are charged with violent offenses or with crimes that aren’t related to their status as a trafficking victim. The prosecutor contends that the law applies only to non-violent crimes and that those who evaluated Martin didn’t tie any victimization from trafficking to the murder and other crimes. 

Anti-Trafficking Groups Back Martin’s Interpretation of Law
Several organizations, including clinics at two Ohio law schools, submitted amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court. They argue that Martin is a victim of human trafficking, including sex trafficking, and that her ongoing victimization can’t be separated from the events that led to Kerney’s murder.

Oral Argument Details
The Court will consider Martin along with three other cases on Jan. 23. The Court will hear arguments in three cases on Jan. 24 and three more on Jan. 25. The Court’s session begins at 9 a.m. each day at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.

Case Previews Available
Along with the brief descriptions below, the Office of Public Information today released in-depth previews of the central arguments in each case. Two of the cases involve Ohio’s death penalty.

Cases for Tuesday, Jan. 23
In Kolosai v. Azem, an estate administrator sued a Cuyahoga County nursing home for the wrongful death of her brother. The nursing home’s admitting paperwork required any disputes to be resolved in arbitration. The trial court ruled that, although the man’s mother signed the paperwork, she had legal authority to do so, and the court sent the dispute to arbitration. After an appeal, the trial court decided that the man signed the documents himself, and ordered the case to arbitration again. However, the appeals court in its second review of the case determined that the nursing home was attempting to re-litigate issues that were decided in the earlier case. The nursing home contends that new evidence was presented to the trial court, allowing the court to send the case to arbitration again.

A Marion man is appealing his 1993 death sentence, arguing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidates Ohio’s death penalty sentencing process. In State v. Mason, the man asserts the high court in 2016 found Florida’s death penalty sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because a jury recommends that a trial judge impose the death sentence instead of requiring the jury to issue the sentence. The man maintains Ohio’s process is similar to Florida’s and should be struck down.

A Cincinnati attorney is facing an indefinite suspension from the Board of Professional Conduct in Cincinnati Bar Association v. Fernandez. The attorney was hired to represent clients in three unrelated bankruptcy cases. Each client paid him, but he provided no legal services. Although the bar association suggested a one-year suspension, which the attorney supports, the board recommends the indefinite suspension to protect the public.

Cases for Wednesday, Jan. 24
State v. Wilks is the automatic death-penalty appeal from a Youngstown man convicted of the 2013 murder of his girlfriend’s adult daughter and attempted murder of his girlfriend’s adult son and the son’s friend after a fight about a loan. The prosecutor presented no physical or forensic evidence, and relied on only the eyewitness testimony of the surviving victims. The man, noting that two other witnesses described the shooter in a way that doesn’t match his appearance, argues that the evidence didn’t support his convictions.

The Supreme Court will decide what standard of review an appellate court must use when reviewing a common pleas court’s decision involving an arbitration award. In Portage Cty. Bd. of Dev. Disabilities v. Portage Cty Educators’ Assn. for Dev. Disabilities, a labor grievance was arbitrated when a former school bus driver took a job as an account clerk for the developmental disabilities board. The board tried to change the clerk’s job duties to include acting as a bus driver or bus aide when needed. The Court will consider a conflict among Ohio appellate courts as to whether an “abuse of discretion” standard is used or if a “de novo” review, which is less deferential to the trial court, is proper.

The Board of Professional Conduct recommends that the Supreme Court suspend a Cuyahoga County lawyer for two years, with one year stayed, based on his handling of a client’s bankruptcy case. In Disciplinary Counsel v. Gold, the lawyer concedes that he committed the violations but argues he deserves a fully stayed suspension.

Cases for Thursday, Jan. 25
The owners of a Lancaster drugstore contest the valuation of their property for taxes based on the $5.64 million they paid for it. In Bronx Park South III v. Fairfield County Board of Revision, they assert that 2012 changes in state tax law permit an auditor to consider other factors besides a recent sale price when calculating a property’s true value. They argue that an appraiser’s analysis, which looked at nearby retail stores and comparable sales and valued the property at $1.66 million, should have been considered. The local school board responds that the sale price is the best indicator of the property’s value.

The Supreme Court will decide if the tort of intentional interference with or destruction of evidence, also known as spoliation of evidence, is limited to the physical alteration or destruction of evidence. In Smith v. Elliott-Thomas, a former Warren City Schools employee argues that attorneys for the school district sabotaged her wrongful termination lawsuit by delaying the production of documents and advising the district’s human resources director not to testify. The woman argues that spoliation of evidence extends to concealment and isn’t limited to actual destruction or alteration of evidence.

The Board of Professional Conduct is recommending a Columbus attorney be suspended for two years, with one year stayed, based on the lawyer’s criminal conviction that stemmed from a physical confrontation with a bicyclist and a physician, who witnessed the encounter. In Columbus Bar Association v. Okuley, the attorney was convicted of misdemeanor criminal damaging for smashing a cell phone of a doctor who attempted to intervene in the attorney’s altercation with the bicyclist. The attorney argues his behavior warrants a lesser sanction than the one proposed by the board.