What’s On Their Minds: Pursuant to the Serious Youthful Offender Statute, Is It Constitutional for the Juvenile Court Judge to Invoke the Adult Portion of a Blended Sentence Upon a Juvenile Offender? In re J.V.

Update: On October 30, 2012 the Court handed down a merit decision in this case. Read the analysis here.

On December 6, the Supreme Court of Ohio heard oral argument in the case of In re J.V., 2011-0107. The case has two distinct issues. The first is whether a trial court, rather than a jury, can constitutionally invoke the adult portion of a blended sentence upon a juvenile offender pursuant to Ohio’s Serious Youthful Offender statute. The second issue is a jurisdictional one–does juvenile court have jurisdiction to invoke the adult portion of a blended sentence upon a defendant who has turned twenty-one.

The case is very messy procedurally because it was twice remanded for re-sentencing by the appeals court because the trial court failed to include a term of post-release control as a part of the stayed adult sentence. By the time the case was remanded the second time, J.V. had turned twenty-one.  Read the full oral argument preview of this case here.

Justice Yvette McGee Brown was not present at oral argument, but Chief Justice O’Connor announced she was going to participate, apparently electronically.  I don’t recall this happening before.

Warning–this is a long post!

This case was very lively, to put it mildly.  Argument lasted fifty minutes—well over the usual fifteen minutes per side.  The justices first raked J.V.’s counsel over the coals.  But if the prosecutor thought that boded well, they raked her over equally. And when Chief Justice O’Connor told J.V.’s counsel that he had thirty seconds for rebuttal, it turned into another ten minutes.

J.V.’s lawyer spent most of his time arguing the first issue—that the statutory process for invoking the adult portion of a stayed sentence under the serious youth offender statute is unconstitutional because it allows a judge rather than a jury to make the necessary findings, and with a burden of proof less than beyond a reasonable doubt.

He doggedly stuck to his position that this process was not analogous to imposing additional time on an adult for a parole or post release control violation, because in those circumstances, the adult is being punished for conduct that has already occurred.  When the adult portion of a stayed sentence is invoked on a juvenile under a blended sentence, the juvenile is being punished for conduct that occurred in the future, not at the time of the initial disposition. The initial disposition of a case is rehabilitation, not punishment.  There is only punishment when the juvenile faces the adult portion of the sentence.  When that happens, those facts must be found by a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court asked the prosecutor to focus on the jurisdictional issue first. She argued that the juvenile court still had jurisdiction when it invoked the stayed adult sentence even though J.V. had turned twenty-one while his appeal was pending, because the court of appeals limited its remand just to correct the failure to address post release control.  She also argued that 2152.14 is constitutional, that the right to a jury trial is not implicated in the imposition of the stayed portion of the adult sentence, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt was not required. She doggedly stuck to her position that juvenile court did retain jurisdiction to invoke the adult portion of the blended sentence even though JV had passed twenty-one by that time. She also argued that having serious youth offender specifications and blended sentence options was crucial to achieving the goal of rehabilitation for juveniles.

In his rebuttal, J.V.’s attorney addressed the jurisdictional issue.  When the case was remanded to include post-release control, the original sentence was declared void by the appeals court.  Under then-existing law, the juvenile court had no jurisdiction to invoke the adult portion of the sentence on a defendant who had since turned twenty-one. Once a defendant reaches twenty-one, the juvenile court has no further jurisdiction over him.

What is the effect of finding R.C. 2152.14 unconstitutional?

Justice O’Donnell asked whether the procedure for the invocation of the adult sentence can be done constitutionally under the existing statute. Wouldn’t declaring the statute unconstitutional just put things back to routine bind-overs with the potential for much longer periods of incarceration than the adult portion of a blended sentence.

He later commented that there was nothing to suggest that the legislature would take action if the court found this statute unconstitutional—we could be left with nothing but bindovers.

Do You Really Want Every Juvenile to be Bound Over to Adult Court?

Justice O’Donnell noted that before the Serious Youth Offender law was enacted, with the option of blended sentences, juveniles were regularly bound over to be tried as adults.  Wasn’t the effect of defense counsel’s argument that this would be the default position again? He also asked the prosecutor if it would be more advantageous to the state if juveniles were all bound over.

How Should Things Work Procedurally?

Chief Justice O’Connor asked defense counsel if he was asking for a second proceeding once there was a violation that would trigger the adult portion of the blended sentence, which would require a jury at that point and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  (answer: yes). If there is a problem with the adult portion of an syo sentence, does this go back to juvenile court to resolve?

Blakely and Apprendi

Justices Lanzinger and O’Donnell and Chief Justice O’Connor all asked if the defendant was saying the statute violated the findings in these cases. (answer all three times:yes)

Egad! Juries in Juvenile Court?

Justice O’Donnell asked whether the defendant was seeking to bring juries into juvenile court? (answer—they are already allowed in the first phase).  Would this new jury phase  occur in juvenile or in adult court?

Justice Lanzinger asked whether the crux of the defendant’s argument was that this is a hybrid situation—there should be a jury trial at the serious youth offender phase, but also at the phase invoking the adult portion of the stayed sentence. (answer: yes). She then commented that precedent that commitment to the Department of Youth Services is rehabilitation and not punishment is “a legal fiction, in a way.” She later commented that since there was already the right to a jury trial in the syo scheme, a jury could be a possibility at the adjudication phase.

Is the punishment for past or future conduct?

Justice Cupp asked wasn’t it the future conduct that invoked the adult portion of the punishment.

How is this different from a parole or post release control violation that triggers the original jail time for an adult without a jury?

Several of the justices weighed in on this point, and said they just couldn’t see any difference.

Chief Justice O’Connor pressed the point several times. She noted that in the adult system you can have punishment for a future crime if you commit another crime while on supervised release, and there is no jury for that.

Justice Stratton said she just didn’t see the difference—if a defendant hadn’t committed the original offense as a juvenile, the judge could never have given the defendant a stayed adult portion of the sentence. You come out, you commit another crime, you get more time added on. In a juvenile case the original sentence is imposed because of a future infraction, just like revoking post release control. There, too, the original sentence is already in place, but it is just stayed.

Justice Lanzinger noted that an adult facing additional punishment for a community control violation has no right to any jury determination. Was adjudication in juvenile court and conviction in criminal court just a matter of semantics?

Where Does Juvenile Court get Jurisdiction Over a Twenty-One Year Old?

Justice Lanzinger noted that there appears to be no statutory authoring giving the juvenile court continuing jurisdiction pending an appeal during which the defendant turns twenty-one.

Justice O’Donnell got into a contentious exchange with the prosecutor, pushing her repeatedly on where juvenile court gets jurisdiction for persons over twenty-one. He asked whether her research had come up with any authority vesting the juvenile court with jurisdiction for persons over the age of twenty-one. (ultimate answer: no).

Chief Justice O’Connor asked once the adult portion of a sentence is invoked, and the defendant is incarcerated, what court would have jurisdiction?  And who could invoke sanctions for any violation of post release control?

Justice O’Donnell asked whether defense counsel wanted all cases in juvenile court in which the juvenile reached twenty-one to be dismissed, because juvenile court no longer had jurisdiction for those defendants.

Did the court of appeals declare J.V.’s sentence void? What was the effect of that finding?

Chief Justice O’Connor noted that this action began well before J.V. turned twenty-one. Once the case was remanded for re-sentencing, was that a brand new sentence?  A sentence originally invalid can’t be cured after the defendant is twenty-one? Or was this not really a re-sentencing, but just adding on a post-release control advisement?

Justice Stratton picked up on this point and asked when a case is remanded for post release control advisement, is that a new sentence or is there a relation back to the original sentence? Doesn’t the correction become part of the original sentence?

Justice Pfeifer asked if the court of appeals had used the term void? But he later commented that the court seemed to relax its use of that term.  Was it possible that the court did have the authority just to tack post release control onto the orignal sentence?

Chief Justice O’Connor asked if a hearing could be limited only to a post release control advisement when the appeals court declared the sentence void.

Be Careful What you Wish For.

Near the end of this long oral argument, Justice Stratton reflected, “in criminal cases the defense bar asked for a fix on apprendi and got foster—all of the protections for defendants that were mandatory options became discretionary—which to me was a terrible outcome for defendants,  Now you are saying the same kinds of things are problematic because of apprendi, so now we should get rid of the syo and go back to bind-overs which is a terrible outcome for youth.”  She asked defense counsel, “What are you trying to accomplish with these challenges?”

How it Looks From The Bleachers.

Whew! Both counsel surely earned their keep on this one.  The Court may well decide that regardless of the good intention of blended sentences, there is no authority for juvenile court to impose its jurisdiction on those over twenty-one.  A majority clearly approve of the public policy behind the serious youth offender statute, and could ask the legislature to fix this. The idea of bind-over being the only option didn’t appeal to anyone.

If the court gets past the jurisdictional issue, it seems poised to uphold the constitutionality of the statute.  A majority appear to see the invocation of the adult portion  of the blended sentence as analogous to a violation of parole or post release control—there is no right to a jury for an adult in that circumstance; the time is imposed at a court hearing.

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