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Appeals Court Upholds ‘Adam Walsh Act’ Provision Extending Juvenile Sex Offender’s Registration Requirement Beyond Defendant’s 21st Birthday

The First District Court of Appeals has upheld as constitutional a provision of Ohio’s Adam Walsh Act (AWA) that requires juvenile courts to sentence certain juvenile sex offenders to registration requirements that extend beyond the defendant’s 21st birthday.

In a 2-1 decision announced June 12, the court of appeals held that a juvenile offender does not have a fundamental right to have the punishment imposed by a juvenile court for a crime he committed as a minor terminate when he reaches the age of 21.  The court held further that because maintaining current residency information on  juveniles convicted of serious sex offenses for three years after they complete a term of juvenile commitment is rationally related to the government’s interest in protecting the public and holding offenders accountable for their actions, the challenged AWA provision does not violate a defendant’s right to due process under the U.S. or Ohio constitutions.

The case involved a Cincinnati youth identified in court records as Raheem L., who was adjudicated a delinquent child for committing an act when he was 16 years old that would have constituted gross sexual imposition had he been an adult. The Hamilton County Juvenile Court committed Raheem to the legal custody of the Department of Youth Services until his 21st birthday, but suspended that commitment and placed him on probation. The juvenile court further classified Raheem as a juvenile offender registrant and a Tier II sex offender/child-victim offender under R.C. 2152.83(A) and imposed the mandatory registration requirements of R.C. Chapter 2950, as amended by the AWA, for a maximum compliance period of 20 years.

Raheem appealed, pointing out that because he was classified as a Tier II offender, under the AWA he was not eligible to petition for declassification and removal of his registration requirements until three years after completing  his suspended term of commitment − effectively extending his sentence for a juvenile offense until his 24th birthday. His attorneys argued  that by imposing punishment for delinquency that would extend beyond his 21st birthday, the juvenile court violated his right to due process under the state and federal constitutions.

In its majority opinion, written by Judge Patrick F. Fischer and joined by Judge Patrick T. Dinkelacker, the court of appeals wrote that it could find no support in case law for the proposition that juveniles have a fundamental right to termination of all legal penalties for delinquency offenses when they turn 21.  In the absence of a fundamental right, the majority held that the challenged provision of the AWA must be upheld as constitutional if the state could show that the extended registration requirement was rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest.

Judge Fischer wrote: “The General Assembly has provided that the overriding purposes for juvenile-court dispositions are ‘to provide for the care, protection, and mental and physical development of children subject to [R.C. Chapter 2152], protect the public interest and safety, hold the offender accountable for the offender's actions, restore the victim, and rehabilitate the offender.’ ...  Although the Ohio Supreme Court has stressed the importance of rehabilitation in the juvenile-court system, it has also recognized that the state has ‘valid interests in enforcing its criminal laws against juveniles and, in at least some cases, in requesting that the juvenile court impose significant penalties in their dispositions’ ...  With this in mind, together with our highly deferential standard of review, we cannot say that the punishment authorized by R.C.
2152.83(A) is irrational.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Penelope R. Cunningham wrote that in her view the disputed AWA sentencing provision violates the due process rights of youthful offenders because it compels juvenile court judges to “automatically” impose an adult sentence on any juvenile who commits certain offenses at the time of his or her original delinquency disposition, and eliminates any opportunity for the judge to review the defendant’s response to treatment and rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system before determining that an adult penalty is necessary or appropriate.

In Re Raheem L., 2013-Ohio-2423
Appeal From: Hamilton County Juvenile Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: June 12, 2013

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