January 8, 2009
Notable Ohio Supreme Court ruling on constitutionality of "blended" juve sentences
As detailed in this official press release, today the Ohio Supreme Court issued a notable discussion on the constitutionality of the state's use of "blended" sentences for juvenile offenders convicted of serious crimes. Here are the basics:
The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that in cases where a juvenile is charged as a “serious youthful offender,” a section of state law authorizing a juvenile judge, rather than a jury, to consider certain factors in determining whether to impose a “blended” juvenile and adult sentence does not violate the defendant’s jury trial rights under the U.S. or Ohio constitutions.
In a 7-0 decision authored by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, the Court also held that, in serious youthful offender cases where sentencing took place prior to this Court’s 2006 decision in State v. Foster, constitutional jury trial rights do not apply to findings made by a juvenile court under Ohio’s adult felony sentencing statutes in imposing the adult portion of a blended sentence.
Under R.C. 2152.13, an Ohio juvenile judge sentencing a “serious youthful offender” (a minor convicted of an offense that would constitute a violent felony if committed by an adult) is authorized to make factual findings to determine whether the defendant should receive a “blended” sentence that includes not only a normal juvenile sentence but also a stayed term of adult imprisonment....
Writing for the Court in today’s decision, Justice Pfeifer pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1971) and this Court’s holding in In re Agler (1969) that because the fundamental objectives of juvenile proceedings are different than those of an adult criminal prosecution, juvenile offenders do not have a constitutional right to have their cases decided by a jury. He noted, however, that because juveniles like D.H. who are charged under Ohio’s serious youthful offender statute face the potential imposition of an adult sentence, this case differed in an important respect from the cases of the juveniles in McKeiver and Agler, and thus merited separate consideration.
By giving minors charged as serious youthful offenders the right to have their guilt or innocence determined by a jury, but vesting juvenile judges with discretion to impose an appropriate sentence, Justice Pfeifer found that Ohio’s statutory scheme balances the due process rights of defendants with the state’s strong public interest in rehabilitating delinquent children.
The State v. D.H., No. 2009-Ohio-9, can be accessed at this link. Because Ohio's "blended" sentencing law is a unique creation, I am not sure this case had broad enough appeal to garner Supreme Court attention if DH were to appeal. Nevertheless, these are really interesting constitutional issues that ought to interest not only sentencing fans, but also anyone concerned about juvenile justice.
January 8, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Permalink
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