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Court News Ohio

Juveniles Entitled to Double-Jeopardy Protections

The Supreme Court of Ohio held today that juveniles are entitled to the same constitutional double-jeopardy protections as adults, and juvenile courts must conduct the same double-jeopardy analysis in delinquency proceedings as others courts apply in adult criminal proceedings.

The 4-3 opinion written by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger reverses an Eighth District Court of Appeals decision that reasoned because criminal statutes do not apply to juvenile proceedings, the juvenile court did not err in refusing to merge acts that would have merged in adult criminal court.

In 2012 A.G. was adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court for conduct that would constitute aggravated robbery and kidnapping and two firearms specifications if committed by an adult. The juvenile court committed him to the Ohio Department of Youth Services for minimum terms of one year each for the aggravated robbery and kidnapping adjudications. The court merged the firearm specifications and imposed a one-year commitment term, and ordered all terms to be served consecutively for a total minimum commitment of three years, with a maximum commitment lasting until A.G. turned 21 years old.

A.G. appealed his sentence to the Eighth District, claiming the juvenile court failed to merge his adjudications for aggravated robbery and kidnapping as allied offenses of similar import and that this failure violated the double-jeopardy clauses of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. The Eighth District concluded that the two acts would merge into one offense under R.C. 2941.25 if committed by an adult, but refused to apply the statute to A.G., a juvenile. A.G. appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

A.G. argued the merger analysis in State v. Johnson (2010) should apply to juvenile proceedings as well as adults. The state countered that juveniles were not afforded the protections of the merger law because legislators intended cumulative commitment periods to be possible for juveniles.

Justice Lanzinger explained that the double-jeopardy clauses in the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution protect against three abuses: (1) a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; (2) a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and (3) multiple punishments for the same offense. She wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1975 Breed v. Jones decision found little differences in juvenile delinquency proceedings from traditional adult criminal prosecutions and ruled that jeopardy attached in juvenile hearings.

“We accordingly acknowledge that both the federal and Ohio Constitutions protect juveniles subject to delinquency proceedings from double jeopardy in the same fashion as they do adults,” she wrote.

Justice Lanzinger stated the Court in this case analyzed the third type of double jeopardy – multiple punishments for the same offense, and whether failing to merge the two offenses into one offense with one punishment is a constitutional violation. She wrote the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the application of double-jeopardy protections in the context of allied offenses in juvenile delinquency proceedings.

Although A.G. argued that the Court should use the merger analysis presented in Johnson,Justice Lanzinger wrote that the analysis presented in the 2015 State v. Ruff opinion should apply. Citing Ruff, Justice Lanzinger stated that R.C. 2941.25 codified the constitutional protection against double jeopardy to determine when multiple punishments are to be given. The rule relating to allied offenses of similar import stated in Ruff applies to juveniles as well as adults.

Justice Lanzinger observed that the decision follows the Court’s previously stated “heightened goals of rehabilitation and treatment” of the juvenile court system.

“By applying double-jeopardy protections to juveniles in a manner that ensures that they will receive only one term of commitment, rather than multiple terms of commitment, for conduct constituting allied offenses of similar import, juveniles who are fully rehabilitated and treated can be released at the conclusion of their minimum term, rather than be forced to serve a second, duplicative term for the same conduct for which they have been rehabilitated and treated,” she wrote.

She also noted in cases like A.G.’s, the juvenile judge retains the discretion to extend the commitment period until the juvenile turns 21. The merger of commitments “allows for the individualized, case-by-case treatment that is appropriate for juveniles,” she concluded.

The Court remanded the case to the Eighth District to apply its holding and conduct further proceedings.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and William M. O’Neill joined Justice Lanzinger’s opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice O’Donnell wrote the Court majority is taking another step toward characterizing proceedings in juvenile court as criminal while “upending settled constitutional principles regarding double jeopardy.”

Before this decision, the Court had not held the allied offenses statute applied to juvenile delinquency proceedings and that many Ohio appellate courts have ruled that R.C. 2941.25 is a criminal statute and does not apply to juvenile proceedings, he stated.

“Notably, R.C. 2941.25 uses the words ‘defendant,’ ‘offenses,’ ‘indictment or information,’ and ‘convicted,’” he wrote. “These are terms that specifically and expressly relate to and are consistent with adult criminal prosecutions. They have nothing to do with juvenile adjudications, which do not refer to juveniles as defendants, do not involve offenses or indictments or informations, and do not result in convictions.”

He explained under Ohio law a juvenile is not a defendant or an accused, but is a “child” and a juvenile proceeding does not result in criminal conviction, but rather a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent. He wrote when the legislature has intended juvenile adjudications to be treated as criminal convictions, it has expressly stated its intent, and nothing in the allied offenses law authorizes or requires juvenile courts to merge delinquency adjudications that would be allied offenses if committed by an adult.

Justice O’Donnell maintains the U.S. Constitution’s double-jeopardy clause protects against imposing multiple criminal punishments for the same offense in successive proceedings, and that when multiple punishments are imposed in the same proceeding, the clause only protects against a court imposing greater punishment than the legislature intended for the crime.

He noted a court can impose multiple punishments if the law allows it, such as a law that allows both imprisonment and a fine as a sentence for a single crime. He stated any claims that a court is imposing an excessive punishment in the same proceeding would be a claim under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines.

He pointed out the Court recently declared Ohio’s double-jeopardy clause affords no greater protection than the federal constitution, and that the question of whether the state constitution forbids imposing multiple punishments for the same offense in the same proceeding was never presented to the Court by the parties in A.G.’s case.

Justice O’Donnell wrote the legislature does vest juvenile courts with the discretion to impose consecutive detention commitments as long as the total commitment does not exceed a child reaching 21 years old.

“The majority loses sight of the fact that the General Assembly has granted the juvenile court judges of this state the discretion and flexibility because rehabilitation of the delinquent child – not punishing the child for committing crimes – is the ultimate goal of juvenile court,” he wrote.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French joined Justice O’Donnell’s dissent.

2014-2190. In re A.G., Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-3306.

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