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Court News Ohio

Using Juvenile Offense to Enhance Adult Crime Prison Sentence is Unconstitutional

Using a prior juvenile adjudication to enhance the sentence of an adult offender violates the state and federal constitutions, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Second District Court of Appeals that affirmed imposition of a mandatory three-year prison term on Adrian Hand Jr. As an adult, Hand pled no contest to five felony charges, and the trial court, during sentencing, counted his prior juvenile adjudication as a prior felony for sentencing purposes.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger stated that because a juvenile adjudication does not provide the right to a jury trial, it cannot be used to increase an adult sentence.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote the majority of federal and state court decisions have found a juvenile adjudication can be used to enhance a sentence even though there is no right to a jury trial in juvenile proceedings.

Hand Objects to Mandatory Three-Year Sentence for Felony Offenses
Hand pled no contest in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to three first-degree felonies – aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping – and two counts of felonious assault, a second-degree felony. He also pled no contest to both of three-year firearm specifications.

During the plea hearing, the parties agreed upon the merger of the three-year gun specifications into a single, mandatory three-year prison term. But they disagreed whether the remainder of the sentence was mandatory or discretionary, and they debated whether Hand’s prior juvenile adjudication for aggravated robbery should operate as a first-degree felony conviction. R.C. 2929.13 (F)(6) requires a mandatory prison term for a first- or second-degree felony if the offender has previously been convicted of or pled guilty to a first- or second-degree felony.

The trial court considered the juvenile adjudication to be a prior felony and sentenced Hand to a mandatory, three-year term for the felony offenses and ordered that term to be served consecutively to the firearm specification term for a total of six years of mandatory time. Hand appealed to the Second District, which, in a 2-1 one decision, affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Supreme Court agreed to hear further appeal.

Hand Maintains Use of Juvenile Record Violated Constitutional Rights
Justice Lanzinger wrote that based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 Apprendi v. New Jersey decision, the Ohio Supreme Court had to determine if the enhanced sentence violated Hand’s due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 16 of the Ohio Constitution.

She explained how the trial court paired two state statutes, R.C. 2929.13(F)(6) and 2901.08(A), in sentencing Hand. R.C. 2929.13(F)(6) requires a prison term for an offender with a prior first- or second-degree felony, but does not define the term “convicted.” R.C. 2901.08(A) states an adjudication as a delinquent child is a conviction for determining what offense to charge and the sentence to impose.

The dissenting Second District judge concluded that Ohio law inconsistently classified juvenile adjudications as civil for some purposes, but criminal for sentence enhancement. Justice Lanzinger wrote the overriding purpose of juvenile dispositions are to protect and care for the development of children and to rehabilitate the offenders, while adult felony sentences are structured to protect the public and punish the offender.

“In summary, juvenile adjudication differs from criminal sentencing — one is civil and rehabilitative, the other is criminal and punitive,” she wrote.

Right to Jury Trial at Issue
While juvenile court proceedings are civil, Justice Lanzinger noted that the penalties youth face have increased and, as a result, courts have required that “numerous constitutional safeguards normally reserved for criminal prosecutions” now apply to juvenile proceedings. The safeguards are rooted in the due process clauses of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, and the Court has recognized a number of them in Ohio juvenile cases, including the accused’s rights to an attorney, and the protections against self-incrimination and double jeopardy. But the right to a trial by jury in a juvenile proceeding has never been required by either constitution. Justice Lanzinger explained the Apprendi decision requires that any prior conviction used to increase a penalty beyond the prescribed maximum sentence must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and the U.S. Supreme Court expanded that holding to apply it to increasing a mandatory minimum sentence.

Even with the expansion of the Apprendi decision, two Ohio appeals courts and several other federal courts have ruled that a lack of a jury trial does not prevent counting a juvenile delinquency disposition toward an adult sentence if all the other constitutional safeguards were in place. However, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held a non-jury juvenile adjudication cannot be considered, and Justice Lanzinger wrote that the Ohio Supreme Court finds the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning to be more persuasive.

“Given the United States Supreme Court’s emphatic pronouncements on the importance of the right to a jury trial, it is logical to conclude that the court meant to limit the prior-conviction exception to prior proceedings that satisfied the jury-trial guarantee. Because a juvenile adjudication is not established through a procedure that provides the right to a jury trial, it cannot be used to increase a sentence beyond a statutory maximum or mandatory minimum,” Justice Lanzinger stated.

By holding that a jury trial is not required for a juvenile proceeding, the state must maintain the civil nature of adjudications, and it would be “contradictory and fundamentally unfair” to use the adjudications from the less formal juvenile process to be later characterized as criminal convictions that enhance adult punishment, she added.

The Court remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.

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

Dissent Supports Trial Court’s Interpretation of Statutes
In his dissent, Justice O’Donnell noted Hand’s juvenile offense if committed by an adult would have been aggravated robbery, an offense than can be used to trigger a mandatory sentence under R.C. 2929.13(F)(6). He wrote because juveniles are adjudicated delinquent rather than convicted of offenses, there has been confusion about the use of adjudications to enhance adult sentences. Justice O’Donnell stated that the legislature addressed this confusion in R.C. 2901.08.

“The plain language of this statute is unambiguous in my view and resolves any question that a prior juvenile delinquency adjudication is a prior conviction for purposes of imposing a mandatory prison term under R.C. 2929.13(F)(6),” he wrote.

Justice O’Donnell cited six separate decisions by federal courts that found no violation of the Apprendi decision for using a juvenile adjudication to enhance an adult sentence, and he noted the majority’s opinion is at odds with the state supreme courts in Kansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Washington, and California.

He wrote that Hand is arguing for the Court to change existing law.

“That change, however, involves a policy consideration involving Ohio law and is not appropriate for judicial decree, but rather should emanate, if at all, from the policy making branch of government, the General Assembly in the State of Ohio,” he concluded.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French joined his dissent.

2014-1814. State v. Hand, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-5504.

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