Update: On October 30, 2012 the Court handed down a merit decision in this case. Read the analysis here.
Read the analysis of the oral argument here.
On December 6, the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the case of In re J.V., 2011-0107. The issue in this case is whether a trial court can consitutionally invoke the adult portion of a sentence upon a juvenile offender pursuant to Ohio’s Serious Youthful Offender statute. Under this statute, a minor who has committed a serious criminal offense is subject to a blended sentence that combines a juvenile disposition and an adult sentence. If all is well by the end of the juvenile portion, the matter ends. But if not, the juvenile judge can invoke the adult portion of the sentence and send the offender to adult prison.
When he was 17 years old, J.V. entered admission to felonious assault and aggravated robbery, with firearm and serious youthful offender specifications. The juvenile court’s blended sentence included both juvenile and adult portions, with the six year adult portion stayed. The trial court did not impose a term of post-release control as a part of the stayed adult sentence. In JV’s first appeal of this case, the matter was remanded to properly journalize his disposition hearing.
On remand, the juvenile court again imposed the juvenile and adult portions of the sentence, and again failed to impose post-release control as part of the suspended adult sentence.
While J.V. served the juvenile portion of his sentence, the state moved to invoke the adult sentence due to J.V.’s violent conduct while in custody. The trial court granted this motion, and J.V. appealed, arguing that the juvenile court had no authority to invoke the stayed adult sentence because the sentence did not contain post-release control provisions. The Eighth District Court of Appeals agreed, and remanded the case again for a new disposition hearing. Before the case was remanded, J.V. had turned 21 years old.
On remand, the juvenile court imposed the stayed six-year adult sentence and properly advised J.V. of post-release control, but then immediately invoked the six-year adult portion of the sentence along with five years of post-release control. J.V. appealed.
The Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed the juvenile court’s sentence. J.V. appealed, citing the following propositions of law:
1. The invocation of an adult prison sentence upon a juvenile, pursuant to R.C. 2152.14, violates the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 10 and 16 of the Ohio Constitution.
2. A juvenile court does not have the authority to impose criminal punishment (including post-release control) after the delinquent child turns 21.
R.C. 2152.14 allows a prosecutor to file a motion with the juvenile court to invoke the adult portion of a blended sentence as a sanction for the juvenile’s misconduct while in custody. This includes the commission of felonies and first degree violent misdemeanors. Under subsection (E)(1), the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the person is serving the juvenile portion of a serious youthful offender sentence, the person is at least fourteen years old, and has been charged with violent acts demonstrating that the person is unlikely to be rehabilitated during the remaining period of juvenile jurisdiction.
J.V. argues that the statute effectively allows juvenile courts to impose adult sentences under a relaxed burden of proof—without a jury, and by clear and convincing evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. He argues that the judicial-fact finding in this statute would violate the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial if the statute were applied to an adult. He argues that under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), a court may not increase a penalty for a crime beyond the statutory maximum unless by a jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt. Under Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), a “statutory maximum” is the “maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant.” Thus, because R.C. 2152.14 allows courts to impose an additional penalty (an adult sentence) based on judicial fact-finding under a relaxed burden of proof, J.V. argues that the statute violates Apprendi and Blakely, as well as the constitutional rights to a jury trial, due process and equal protection. J.V. also argues that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction over him under R.C. 2152.02(C)(6), which states that the juvenile court has jurisdiction over a person “until the person attains twenty-one years of age.”
The State responds by pointing out that generally, juveniles do not enjoy the same right to trial by jury as do adults. When the juvenile court invokes an adult sentence in accordance with R. C.2152.14, the right to trial by jury is not implicated and neither due process nor equal protection is violated. Juveniles do not have the right to have their adult sentences invoked by a jury, and the decision on whetehr to invoke the adult portion of the blended senetence is best left to the juvenile judge. R.C. 2152.14 does run afoul of either Blakely or Apprendi, or of Ohio’s landmark sentencing decision, State v. Foster. As to the relaxed burden of proof, the State argues that courts have wide discretion to invoke suspended sentences upon determining that the offender has not complied with sentencing conditions, and that adults, much less juveniles, do not enjoy a jury trial right in the determination of whether a suspended sentence should be invoked. Finally, the State argues that the juvenile court had jurisdiction to impose the sentence, and that J.V. should not be excused from his adult prison sentence just because of a post-release control error that could not be remedied until after he had turned twenty-one.
The Ohio Public Defender and Attorney General have filed amicus briefs. OPD argues that juvenile courts cannot follow the mandate of a higher court to enter a new disposition if they are without subject-matter jurisdiction. Because juvenile courts’ jurisdiction is over “children” (under the age of 21), and because J.V. was not a “child” when the juvenile court invoked the adult portion of the sentence, the court was without jurisdiction to do so. OPD argues that the juvenile court had three chances to impose the adult sentence before its jurisdiction was terminated, but did not do so until two years after J.V. turned 21.
The Attorney General argues, among other things, that (1) J.V. urged the juvenile court to impose the blended sentence as part of his plea agreement, and therefore he cannot challenge the sentence on appeal; (2) a juvenile who stipulates to a serious youthful offender designation waives his right to raise a 6th Amendment objection to the sentence; (3) there is no 6th Amendment violation here, because the invocation of the adult sentence did not raise J.V.’s punishment allowed by the jury’s verdict or plea agreement, (4) the due process an equal protection claims are not before the Court because of jurisdictional defects and waiver; and (5) if the Court were to find the invocation procedure of R.C. 2152.14(E)(1) unconstitutional, the judicial fact-finding portion of the statute should be severed from the rest of the statute.
Student Contributor Greg Kendall