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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Mandatory Sentences for Juveniles Constitutional

State laws mandating sentences for juveniles are constitutional, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

A longer penalty imposed for a juvenile convicted at trial than for a codefendant who pleaded guilty is not a trial penalty, the Court also ruled.

Both rulings were handed down July 5 in the case of Rickym Anderson. The Court also determined that Anderson forfeited his chance to argue that subjecting juveniles to Ohio’s mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes was unconstitutional.

The majority opinion in Anderson’s case, written by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, pointed out that Anderson had been convicted of four felony offenses and received a longer prison term than his codefendant who pleaded guilty to three felonies and agreed to testify against him at trial. Hence, the sentence was not a penalty or “trial tax,” Anderson’s sentence was within the range authorized by law, and Anderson faced a potential 50-year sentence, the Court ruled.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice William O’Neill agreed with the majority that Anderson’s sentence was not a trial tax. But both wrote separate dissenting opinions, asserting that Ohio’s mandatory bindover law that required Anderson to be tried as an adult is unconstitutional.

Both cited their positions in State v. Aalim, in which the two were in a 4-3 majority that found in December 2016 that the mandatory bindover law violated a juvenile’s right to due process as guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution. The Court in its current term reconsidered and reversed the Aalim decision in May, finding the law constitutional.

Anderson and Two Others Rob and Kidnap
In 2012, Anderson was 16 years old when he, Dylan Boyd, and another minor identified by the Court as M.H. saw Brian Williams and Tiesha Preston standing inside the garage of a Dayton home. Boyd, accompanied by Anderson and M.H., entered the garage and pointed a gun at Williams and Preston. Both tried to run. Boyd shot Williams and grabbed Preston and forced her into the trunk of a car parked outside the garage. The three stole a purse and cigarettes from the car and left.

That same day, Boyd and Anderson approached Star MacGowan outside her apartment. Anderson showed MacGowan a gun and threatened to shoot her if she did not give him money. She handed over her purse, and the two men took her cell phone. Police apprehended Anderson near MacGowan’s apartment, finding him in possession of her cell phone and located a gun about 30 to 40 feet away from where he was caught.

Prosecutors filed a complaint in Montgomery County Juvenile Court alleging Anderson committed offenses that, if committed by an adult, would constitute aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and felonious assault — all with firearm specifications. The juvenile court found there was probable cause to believe Anderson committed the offenses and transferred Anderson to the general division of Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, where he was to be tried as an adult.

Anderson and Boyd were both indicted on three counts of aggravated robbery, one count of felonious assault, and one count of kidnapping — all with firearm specifications. Boyd negotiated a plea that included testifying  against Anderson if necessary. Boyd pleaded guilty to single counts of aggravated robbery with a firearm specification, felonious assault, and kidnapping. He received nine years in prison.

At trial, Anderson was found not guilty of felonious assault, but guilty of three counts of aggravated robbery with the firearm specifications and kidnapping. The court sentenced him to 28 years in prison.

Anderson Contests Sentence
Anderson appealed his convictions and sentence, and the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, but remanded the matter to the trial court, ruling it did not take the proper steps to impose consecutive sentences for each crime Anderson committed.

The trial court resentenced Anderson to a total of 19 years in prison by giving him 11 years for each of the three robbery counts, but ordering them to be served concurrently. The court then added a total of eight more years by consecutively sentencing him to a mandatory three years for the use of the firearm and five years for kidnapping.

At the resentencing, the trial judge discussed the disparity in Boyd’s and Anderson’s sentences finding they were both “equally culpable.” But Boyd reached an agreement with the state, admitted his misconduct, and agreed to testify against Anderson. The judge stated that Anderson’s sentence was “not a penalty” and noted that Anderson had a criminal history and did not take responsibility for what he had done.

Anderson appealed the second sentence, which the Second District affirmed, finding that the trial court adequately explained to Anderson that he was not being punished for going to trial. The Second District also rejected Anderson’s claim that imposing mandatory minimum sentences in adult court on a juvenile offender was cruel and unusual punishment. Anderson appealed to the Supreme Court and raised two issues— whether the longer sentence that he received constitutes a trial tax, and whether the mandatory sentencing law when applied to juveniles constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Trial Tax Considered
In the majority opinion, Justice O’Donnell referenced Corbitt v. New Jersey where the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 held that the standard of punishment will be different for those who plead guilty compared with those who go to trial, in part because there is consideration given to those who admit guilt, and that several federal courts and two state supreme courts have ruled that a disparity in sentences between codefendants, where one pleads guilty and the other is found guilty at trial, does not prove there was a trial tax. The opinion noted the trial court specifically stated it did not punish Anderson for exercising his right to a jury trial, and the majority determined that a comparison with the sentence of the codefendant is invalid because of the factual differences in their cases and that his sentence is not a trial tax.

Constitutionality of Mandatory Juvenile Sentencing
Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida (2010), the opinion explained that in order to determine whether a penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, the Court is to consider “whether there is a national consensus against the sentencing practice at issue,” and use its own independent judgment to determine whether it is unconstitutional.

Applying that standard to this case, the Court concluded that there is not a national consensus against mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles and wrote that “[i]mposing a mandatory minimum sentence of three years on juvenile offenders for aggravated robbery and for kidnapping does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Rejecting Anderson’s claim that a mandatory three-year firearm penalty is unconstitutional, the Court noted that the mandatory three-year prison sentence imposed on a juvenile offender tried as an adult for a conviction of a firearm specification does not violate the Eighth Amendment because it serves a legitimate “penological” goal to punish or deter criminal behavior, is proportional to the crimes committed, and is not one of the harshest possible penalties for a juvenile offender.

The Court also rejected Anderson’s claim that a mandatory sentence violates his due process rights because he did not raise the issue in trial or appellate court, and forfeited the right to raise it for the first time in the Supreme Court.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine joined the majority opinion.

Dissent Would Send Case to Juvenile Court
Chief Justice O’Connor wrote that the mandatory-transfer scheme is unconstitutional and Anderson’s case should be remanded to juvenile court where the judge would follow the procedure for a discretionary transfer. That process includes an “amenability hearing,” where the judge determines if the offender should remain in the juvenile system or be transferred to adult court.

She also stated that the trial court thoroughly explained why Anderson’s sentence was not a penalty, noting that even after being convicted, Anderson denied his role saying, “he was with some people who decided to rob some people,” and that he did not commit any offense but “was hanging around with people who did and that he was not under control of himself as the drugs had taken over his mind.”

The chief justice also wrote that the trial court considered Anderson’s prior juvenile offenses, the fact that he brandished a weapon during the commission of some of the offenses, and his failure to separate himself from the group committing the crimes, before determining that Anderson was not amenable to treatment and a 19-year sentence was justified.

Justice O’Neill wrote that he agreed with the chief justice’s position that the sentence was not a trial tax and that the case should have not been heard in adult court without first going through the discretionary juvenile proceeding.

Justice O’Neill wrote that Anderson did not forfeit his right to challenge the sentence on due process grounds. He explained the Eighth Amendment does not by itself apply to the actions of states, but rather the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment applies to all federal constitutional protections to state procedures. Because of the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, a challenge based on the Eighth Amendment automatically includes a due process challenge and the Court should have considered the claim, he wrote.

The due process argument is valid, Justice O’Neill maintains, because courts have ruled that unlike adults, juveniles are entitled to individual assessments about their crimes and what sanctions they face based on their particular circumstances.

“The mandatory sentencing scheme, when applied to those who committed their crimes while juveniles, thwarts the right to individualized assessment by imposing a one-size-fits-all punishment,” he wrote.

2016-0317. State v. Anderson, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-5656.

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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.

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