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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Affirms Sentences for Crimes Committed by Juvenile

If a juvenile is convicted of committing a crime that, when charged, required the case to be transferred from the juvenile division to the general division of a common pleas court, the juvenile will be sentenced by the general division for all convictions in that case, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The 6-1 ruling allowed a nine-year prison sentence to stand for a Montgomery County juvenile identified in court records as D.B. When he was 17 years old, D.B. used a firearm to commit two aggravated robberies at two restaurants and forced multiple people into confined spaces against their will.

Juvenile courts hear cases involving people under 18 years old who are charged with acts that would be crimes if committed by an adult. The general division hears all other criminal felony cases.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Patrick F. Fischer explained the decision resolves a conflict among Ohio appeals courts in cases regarding a “reverse bindover,” where the juvenile offender is convicted on at least one charge that mandated transfer to the general division and convicted on additional charges that would otherwise be adjudicated in the juvenile division.

Court Reconsidered D.B. After Reversing Recent Juvenile Ruling
The Court’s affirmation of D.B.’s sentence reverses a December 2016 decision, which sent the case back to Montgomery County Juvenile Division for resentencing. Based on the Court’s initial State v. Aalim decision, which ruled parts of Ohio’s mandatory transfer statute were unconstitutional, the Court remanded D.B.’s case. When the Aalim decision was reversed earlier this year, prosecutors in D.B.’s case sought reconsideration by the Supreme Court. Justice Fischer wrote that, because D.B.’s transfer to the general division has been deemed legal, the Court needed to rule on the original dispute raised in D.B.’s case regarding his sentences.

Justice William M. O’Neill dissented in the latest D.B. case, expressing his objection to the second Aalim decision. Justice O’Neill wrote that based on the first Aalim decision, a juvenile judge should have made an independent finding to determine if D.B’s case should be transferred to the general division, and the general division’s sentence was invalid.

Mandatory Transfer Law Questioned
D.B. was charged with being a delinquent child for actions that would constitute multiple counts of aggravated robbery and kidnapping if committed by an adult. Each count had a firearm specification, and the case was transferred to Montgomery County Common Pleas Court General Division under the mandatory transfer requirements of Ohio law. D.B. later pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated robbery, with a firearm specification attached to one count, and three counts of kidnapping. In return for a guilty plea, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges and recommended a prison sentence of between six and 12 years.

The trial court imposed three six-year prison terms for the robberies, which were to be served concurrently, and three five-year terms for the kidnapping charges, which also were to be served concurrently with the robbery charges. The three-year gun specification was ordered to be served consecutive to the other sentences for a total of nine years.

D.B. appealed his sentence to the Second District Court of Appeals, arguing that the aggravated robbery with the firearm specification was the only conviction that stemmed from a charge requiring the mandatory transfer of his case to the general division. He argued the remaining convictions were subject to a “reverse bindover” and should be sent back to the juvenile division, where that court would consider applying juvenile punishments to those crimes. The Second District ruled the kidnapping charges had to be considered by the juvenile division before any punishment for those crimes could be imposed.

Prosecutors noted, and the Second District agreed, that its ruling was in conflict with a recent Eighth District Court of Appeals decision. The Supreme Court agreed to resolve the conflict.

Law Applies to Older Juveniles Using Guns
The Court explained the law at issue applies only to cases where there is probable cause that a 16- or 17-year-old committed a “category two” offense other than kidnapping with a firearm. The law has seven “category two” offenses, which include voluntary manslaughter, rape, and aggravated robbery.

Cases in this category transfer from the juvenile division to the general division without an “amenability” hearing, where a judge first determines if the minor could be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, and or if the case is best suited for the general division. Once the case moves to the general division, R.C. 2152.121(B) requires the court to examine each of the juvenile’s convictions. In D.B. and other cases, the ultimate convictions were different than the original charges because of the plea bargain.

The Court stated the law requires that before the general division sentences a juvenile, it must determine what the juvenile division would have done if it only had to consider the offenses that resulted in convictions. It noted that, in some cases, the offenses for which there are convictions would not fit into the category that requires automatic transfer. In those cases, the general division concludes its work once there is a conviction, then uses the reverse bindover procedure in R.C. 2151.121(B)(3) to send the case back to juvenile division.

The lower courts’ dispute centers on what happens in cases such as D.B.’s where the convictions include one that requires a mandatory transfer, and others that do not. The Supreme Court majority cited R.C. 2152.121(B)(4), noting the law states it is “the case” and not “the convictions” that determine what happens.

The Court held that, “[u]nder the plain language of R.C. 2152.121(B)(3), the court is not empowered to split the case in two, with some portions going back to the juvenile court and others remaining with the general division of the court of common pleas. That is, a trial court cannot separate each of the juvenile’s convictions, because the relevant inquiry is what the juvenile court would have been required to do with the case”in its entirety.

The Court concluded that once the general division determines a 16- or 17-year-old was convicted of a crime that is subject to mandatory transfer, that court must sentence the juvenile for all convictions in that case. The Court reversed the Second District’s judgment and reinstated the trial court’s sentence.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and R. Patrick DeWine joined the opinion.

Dissent Find Juvenile’s Rights Violated
In his dissenting opinion, Justice O’Neill wrote that transferring a case from juvenile to adult court without an individualized determination of a charged child’s life is an unconstitutional violation of a juvenile’s due process rights. He stated the adult court did not have jurisdiction to convict and sentence D.B.

“D.B.’s case, even though it involves guns and bad behavior, cannot, from a constitutional standpoint, be transferred to adult court unless and until D.B. receives an amenability hearing,” he wrote.

2015-0192. State v. D.B., Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-6952.

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