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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Supreme Court Rules on Minimum and Consecutive Sentences for Certain Juvenile Offenses

A juvenile court has the authority to commit a delinquent juvenile to confinement with the department of youth services for a minimum time greater than the statutory minimum of 30 days when the juvenile has violated his supervised release, according to a decision today by the Ohio Supreme Court.

In the court’s majority opinion, Justice William M. O’Neill wrote that a juvenile court may also impose commitment periods consecutively when a juvenile is found delinquent of another offense and in violation of his supervised release.

The decision affirms the judgments of the Ninth District Court of Appeals and the juvenile court in the case.

In December 2010, the Lorain County Juvenile Court found a juvenile identified by the initials H.V. to be delinquent of attempted domestic violence, a fourth-degree felony if committed by an adult. The court committed H.V. to the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS) for a minimum period of six months. He was then placed on supervised release.

About six months after he was released, the then 16-year-old was charged with felonious assault and not adhering to the conditions of his supervised release. The juvenile court revoked H.V.’s supervised release and committed him to ODYS for a minimum period of 90 days. The court then found H.V. delinquent of felonious assault, in this case a second-degree felony if committed by an adult. The court imposed a one-year term for the assault, to be served consecutively to the 90-day term.

H.V. appealed to the Ninth District, which agreed with the trial court. He then asked the Ohio Supreme Court to review the decision, and the court agreed to hear the case.

Justice O’Neill noted that R.C. 5139.52(F) authorizes juvenile courts to return juveniles to ODYS for a minimum of 30 days when they have committed serious violations of their supervised release. In addition, the statute does not bar a juvenile court from imposing a minimum sentence of more than 30 days for a juvenile’s offense, he reasoned.

“The statute speaks only to the minimum period of institutionalization,” Justice O’Neill wrote. “It [also] clearly vests the ODYS with the authority to increase the judge’s original sentence — presumably for juveniles who simply cannot be rehabilitated within that time — but there is no indication in this section that the juvenile court is limited in the amount of time that it may impose under this provision. … We will not construe the statute to prevent the court from holding H.V. fully accountable for his behavior or to force the court to ignore the fact that H.V. was not only guilty of violating the conditions of his supervised release but had also committed another violent act. There is no rational reason to suggest that a juvenile court should be limited in the sanctions that it can apply in such a situation. The court’s job, after all, is not only to attempt to correct the juvenile but to protect the public as well.”

On the issue of applying the sentences consecutively, Justice O’Neill wrote that the juvenile court is granted this authority by R.C. 2152.19(A)(8), which provides that “‘[i]f a child is adjudicated a delinquent child, the court may … [m]ake any further disposition that the court finds proper, ….’”

While H.V. argued that juvenile courts are prohibited from imposing consecutive sentences under any circumstances other than the ones specifically spelled out in the Revised Code, Justice O’Neill explained that the Ohio Supreme Court rejected this argument in In re Caldwell (1996) and rejects it again in this case.

“Here, the juvenile court was presented with a repeat offender whose criminal conduct showed no signs of ebbing,” he wrote. “In fact, it was escalating — from an earlier domestic-violence charge to the current felonious-assault charge. Under these circumstances, it would have been contrary to R.C. 2152.01(A), which requires juvenile courts to hold offenders accountable for their actions by imposing graduated sanctions, for the juvenile court to continue to order the same sanction despite the escalating and dangerous criminal behavior. R.C. 2152.19(A)(8) expressly grants juvenile courts the authority to make any disposition that the court finds proper. … Thus, we hold that the juvenile court was within its statutory authority … to order H.V. to serve the imposed term of commitment for his supervised-release violation consecutively to the imposed term of commitment for his new crime.” 

Justice O’Neill’s opinion was joined by Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, and Sharon L. Kennedy. Justice Judith L. French wrote a separate opinion concurring with the majority in part and dissenting in part. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer.

In her opinion, Justice French agreed with the majority that the juvenile court could order H.V.’s commitments to be served consecutively. However, she joins Chief Justice O’Connor’s dissent on the issue of whether juvenile courts may impose a minimum sentence greater than the 30-day statutory minimum for a violation of supervised release.

“R.C. 5139.52(F) does not grant the court any authority to determine the term of the juvenile’s commitment, minimum or maximum,” Justice French wrote. “The minimum 30-day term is imposed by statute, and the maximum term (or rather, the child’s release date) is left solely to the discretion of ODYS. The court simply has no authority to determine the length of the ODYS commitment at all. It may only revoke parole and return the child to ODYS.”

In her dissent, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote: “By construing the 30-day term in R.C. 5139.52(F) as merely the baseline for the juvenile court’s discretion to impose any minimum term of institutionalization, the majority fails to recognize the significance of minimum and indefinite sentencing provisions in the context of juvenile cases, as well as the significance of statutory limitations on the discretionary authority of both the juvenile court and the ODYS.”

When the juvenile court revoked H.V.’s supervised release and chose to return the teen to the custody of ODYS, it no longer had any control under the statute regarding the length of H.V.’s confinement, the chief justice continued. According to the statute, only ODYS has the discretion to decide the timing of a juvenile’s release from an indefinite term of confinement after the 30-day minimum period, she stated.

The chief justice concluded: “If the 30-day-minimum-institutionaliztion provision in R.C. 5139.52(F) truly allows a trial court to impose any definite term of institutionalization that it deems proper within the range of the child’s previous indefinite term, the revocation no longer has the quality of a juvenile disposition. Instead, it is a punitive sentence.”

In addition, the chief justice contends that the statutes governing juvenile cases do not permit consecutive sentences for a supervised-release revocation and a term for a new offense. Unlike the time of Caldwell, when the juvenile statutes were silent on the issue of consecutive sentences, we are now guided by R.C. 2152.17, she stated.

“Looking at the more specific terms of R.C. 2152.17, it is clear that the General Assembly has delineated the circumstances under which a court may impose consecutive terms of institutionalization and that the circumstances of H.V.’s dispositions are not among those listed,” Chief Justice O’Connor wrote.

“In the end, it may have been a very good idea for H.V. to remain in secure confinement for the term imposed by the juvenile court,” she continued. “But the fact that H.V.’s case does not cry out for a shorter term of institutionalization is irrelevant to the determination whether the juvenile court had statutory authority to act as it did. … In cases in which we believe that punishment is paramount to rehabilitation, judges must rely on the juvenile statutes that allow for bindover, serious-youthful-offender hybrid sentencing, or any number of additional dispositions, to address cases in which the juvenile presents a risk that cannot be addressed in the juvenile system. Judges cannot, however, alter a statutory scheme in order to fashion a remedy in any given case.”

2012-1688. In re H.V., Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-812.

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