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Court News Ohio

Supreme Court Sets Guidelines for Waiver of ‘Amenability’ Hearing In Juvenile Bindover Cases

The Supreme Court of Ohio held today that a juvenile offender may waive a required “amenability” hearing to determine whether he should be bound over for trial as an adult, but such a waiver is valid only if (1) the juvenile, through counsel, expressly states on the record a waiver of the amenability hearing and (2) the juvenile court engages in a colloquy (dialogue) on the record with the juvenile to determine that the waiver was made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.

Applying that analysis to a Cuyahoga County case, the court held that the requirements for a valid hearing waiver were not met, and remanded the case of a juvenile offender to the juvenile court with a directive to either conduct an amenability hearing or obtain a proper waiver by the juvenile.

The court’s 7-0 decision, authored by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, reversed a ruling by the Eighth District Court of Appeals.

Under R.C. 2152.12, when a juvenile who meets certain age criteria commits specified crimes, a juvenile court has discretion to either grant or deny a motion by the state to “bind the juvenile over” for trial and sentencing as an adult. In discretionary bindover cases, before acting on the state’s motion, the juvenile court is required conduct an “amenability” hearing at which it must consider 17 statutory criteria in order to determine either that the offender is “amenable to care or rehabilitation within the juvenile system,” or alternatively that “the safety of the community (requires) the child be subject to adult sanctions.”

In this case, a juvenile identified as D.W. was charged with a felony count of burglary and other crimes in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. At the time of the offenses, D.W. was 17 years old.  After conducting a hearing at which the court found probable cause to charge D.W. for the alleged crimes, the judge engaged in an off-the-record sidebar discussion with the assistant prosecutor and defense counsel with regard to binding him over for trial as an adult. At the conclusion of that discussion, the judge stated on the record that because the juvenile court had conducted an amenability hearing in a prior case involving different offenses committed by D.W., and had bound him over for trial as an adult in that case based on a finding that he was not amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system, the court would grant bindover in the current case without conducting a new amenability hearing.

D.W. was subsequently bound over to the common pleas court and indicted by a Cuyahoga County Grand Jury on one count each of burglary, theft, vandalism, and criminal damaging and two counts of bribery. A jury acquitted him of bribery, but found him guilty of the other charges.  He was sentenced to six years in prison and mandatory postrelease control. 

D.W. appealed his convictions, asserting that his bindover for trial as an adult was invalid because the juvenile court had not conducted a separate amenability hearing on the new charges against him before taking that action.  On review, the Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding that a new amenability hearing was not required because D.W.’s attorney had waived a hearing on the new charges during the probable cause hearing. 

D.W. sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the Eighth District’s ruling.

Writing for the court in today’s decision, Chief Justice O’Connor pointed out that the amenability hearing required under R.C. 2152.12 “affects whether the juvenile faces a delinquency adjudication, or adult criminal sanctions and the label ‘felon.’ ... Given the nature and consequences of the amenability hearing, juvenile court judges are entrusted with significant authority when conducting the hearings. ... The safeguard of a hearing is contained in the Revised Code and Rules of Juvenile Procedure, and it is grounded in due process and other constitutional protections.  As the United States Supreme Court makes clear, ‘there is no place in our system of law for reaching a result [the transfer of a juvenile to adult court] of such tremendous consequences, without ceremony − without hearing, without effective assistance of counsel, without a statement of reasons.’”

While holding that juvenile offenders have a clear statutory right to a hearing on the issue of amenability, the Chief Justice wrote that Rule 3 of the state’s Rules of Juvenile Procedure allows a juvenile to waive (intentionally relinquish) that right, but only “with the permission of the court,” i.e., after the court has determined that the waiver is voluntary, and that the juvenile understands both the right he or she is giving up and the consequences of that action.

In order to assure that those conditions are met, Chief Justice O’Connor wrote: “(W)e hold that in situations in which a juvenile is subject to discretionary transfer and the juvenile wishes to waive the right to an amenability hearing, the juvenile court must engage in a two-step process to determine the validity of the waiver. First, before being transferred, the juvenile may waive the right to an amenability hearing only if the waiver is expressly stated on the record and through counsel. ...  Second, the juvenile court must determine that the waiver is offered knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.  Proper determination must include a colloquy with the juvenile and must occur on the record.  The colloquy allows the juvenile court to fulfill its parens patriae duty (duty to protect a vulnerable party as a parent would) by ensuring that the juvenile fully understands and intentionally and intelligently relinquishes the right to an amenability hearing.  And it allows the judge ‘to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the juvenile,’ ... to guarantee that the juvenile’s due process rights are protected.”

In rejecting the Eighth District’s finding that D.W.’s attorney had waived his right to an amenability hearing in an off-the-record sidebar with the trial judge, the Chief Justice wrote: “(T)his case illustrates the problems that arise when waivers are not clearly set forth on the record.  There is no evidence in the record to support a finding that D.W., either himself or through his counsel, waived his right to an amenability hearing. The record lacks any meaningful discussion about the amenability hearing.  Absent an express statement on the record by either D.W. or his counsel requesting waiver of his right to an amenability hearing, we will not hold that D.W. waived this right.”

The court also rejected the juvenile court’s holding that its bindover of D.W. in a previous case eliminated the requirement of a new amenability hearing with regard to his subsequent offenses.  Chief Justice O’Connor pointed out that while this court held in a 1981 decision, State v. Adams, that once a juvenile offender had been bound over for adult trial, bindover was automatic for any future felonies, the legislature later amended the law to bar juvenile courts from imposing automatic bindover for future crimes.

She wrote: “We must respect the right of the General Assembly to limit our holdings as long as the constitution permits it do so. Here, the legislature acted within its role, and we must give effect to legislative intent and ensure that our juvenile courts do so as well. According to statute then, a juvenile court cannot bind over a juvenile on the sole basis that the juvenile has been previously bound over.”

Chief Justice O’Connor’s opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Robert R. Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown. Justice Terrence O’Donnell concurred in judgment only.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

2011-1677.  State v. D.W., Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-4544.
Cuyahoga App. No. 95750, 2011-Ohio-4096.  Judgment reversed and cause remanded.
O’Connor, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, Lanzinger, Cupp, and McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
O’Donnell, J., concurs in judgment only.
O’Connor, C.J., and Pfeifer and McGee Brown, JJ., dissent.

Video clip View oral argument video of this case.

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