Merit Decision. Waiving an Amenability Hearing. State v. D.W.

On Oct. 4, 2012, the Supreme Court of Ohio handed down a merit decision in State v. D.W.,2012-Ohio-4544.  (when the case was originally briefed and calendared, the caption included the full name of the defendant.  Effective July 1, 2012, initials are now required in the caption and body of published decisions involving juveniles). The case was argued June 5, 2012.

The issue in the case is whether an amenability hearing can be waived, and if so, the proper standard for the waiver. The Court unanimously held that an amenability hearing can be waived, but it was not properly waived in this case. The Court adopted a two-part test to evaluate an amenability hearing waiver. Chief Justice O’Connor, who has been on a protective tear about juveniles, wrote the decision for the Court. Justice O’Donnell concurred in judgment only.

Useful Information In Understanding this Decision

R.C. 2152.12 governs the transfer of cases from juvenile to adult court. If the transfer is discretionary, the juvenile court must hold an amenability hearing to determine if the juvenile is amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system or should be bound over to adult court.

Kent v. United States

In 1966 the U.S. Supreme Court held that before transferring a juvenile to adult court, the juvenile is entitled to due process and fair treatment, including a hearing, access by his lawyer to the information on which the decision will be based, and a statement of the reasons for the court’s decision.

In re C.S., 2007-Ohio-4919

Sets forth the requirements for a valid waiver of counsel by a juvenile. This case was also written by Chief Justice O’Connor.

Juvenile Rule 30

Provides a juvenile the right to a hearing in a discretionary transfer to adult court case.

Juvenile Rule 3

Significant changes were made to this rule effective July 1, 2012, but none of those changes have a bearing on issues in this case.  The Rule allows for the waiver of certain rights by juveniles.

State v. Adams

In 1982, the Court held that once a juvenile is bound over in any Ohio county, that juvenile is to be bound over for all other felonies he may commit. This decision was legislatively overruled in 1995 when the discretionary transfer statute was amended.

Case Background

Seventeen year old D.W. was charged with one count each of burglary and theft. On May 10, 2010, a transfer hearing was held in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court.  Six weeks earlier, the same judge, with the same prosecutor and defense counsel as in this case, had determined D.W. was not amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system, and had transferred him to adult court.  So, after an off-the-record sidebar conference with both counsel in this case, the judge, based on his earlier determination, dispensed with the amenability hearing, and again transferred D.W. to common pleas court to be tried as an adult. D.W. was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison.  The Eighth District Court of Appeals found that D.W. had waived the amenability hearing through his counsel, and the trial court had not abused its discretion in transferring the case to adult court. Read the oral argument preview post here, and the analysis of the oral argument here.

The Merit Decision

Juveniles Are Different

Citing Miller v. AlabamaRoper v. Simmons, and Graham v. Florida, Chief Justice O’Connor emphasized the U.S. Supreme Court mandate that juveniles are different from adults—they are less mature, have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, not-yet-formed characters, and more susceptibility to negative outside influences. (For more on this, read this In Sharper Focus post.) So they are less deserving of “the most severe punishments.” She also re-emphasized that rehabilitation is the goal of the juvenile justice system.

Balanced against this, in 1969, because of an uptick in the severity of juvenile crime, the Ohio General Assembly passed a statutory scheme allowing some juveniles to be transferred to adult court for trial. Transfers can be either mandatory or discretionary.

Discretionary Transfers and Amenability Hearings

This case involves a discretionary transfer pursuant to R.C. 2152.12(B). An amenability hearing determines whether a juvenile is amenable to rehabilitation or should be transferred to adult court to face adult criminal sanctions. Chief Justice O’Connor characterized the amenability hearing as “a critical stage of the proceedings.”

Required Due Process Protections

The Court first agreed with D.W. that an amenability hearing is required before a juvenile can be transferred to adult court, and that such a right is “compelled by federal due process protections.” (citing  Kent v. U.S., R.C. 2152.12(B), and Juv.R. 30)

Juv.R. 3 allows certain waivers and disallows others (such as the right to be represented by counsel at a discretionary transfer hearing.) That rule also allows “other rights” to be waived with the court’s permission. In this case, the Supreme Court held that one of those “other rights” that can be waived under Juv. R. 3 is the right to an amenability hearing.  In so holding, the Court rejected D.W.’s argument that this hearing could not be waived.

Requirements For an Amenability Hearing Waiver

Here’s where the decision gets its teeth.

The Court extensively analyzed what was required for a valid waiver of the right to counsel in In Re C.S, noting that these requirements have been incorporated into the new Juv. R. 3. The Court then adopted the same reasoning and a similar standard for the waiver of an amenability hearing.  

“Because the same underlying principles that we addressed regarding the nature of juvenile courts in the context of a juvenile’s waiver of his right to counsel are present in our analysis of a juvenile’s waiver of an amenability hearing, we conclude that the holding in In re C.S. and the language of Juv.R. 3 are persuasive and applicable to the standard that we adopt today,” wrote the Chief.

So, here is the must list

  • Any waiver request must be expressly stated on the record, by a lawyer.  Having a lawyer do this cannot be waived.
  • The juvenile court judge must determine that the waiver is knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made. This must include a colloquy with the juvenile and must be on the record.
  • The record must indicate the specific factors that were applied and that underpin the court’s determination

Application of the Due Process Requirements to This Case

The Court concluded there was no indication of a proper waiver in this case. There was no meaningful discussion on the record about the amenability hearing. There was no express statement on the record waiving this hearing, and the high Court flatly rejected the prosecution’s argument that there was an implied waiver in this case.  There was no evidence that D.W. even knew he had a right to an amenability hearing, and the juvenile court failed in its duty of inquiry on this point.  And the juvenile judge was just plain wrong when he determined that a prior recent bindover eliminated the need for an amenability hearing in this case.  “Each case presented to the juvenile court must be assessed on its own merits,” the Court wrote, noting that the legislature had expressly overruled the once-transferred-always-transferred rule set forth in State v. Adams.

Reverse and Remand

The Court concluded that the juvenile court had failed to conduct the necessary amenability hearing in this case, reversed the court of appeals, and remanded the case back to juvenile court for an amenability hearing or a proper waiver.

Case Syllabus

An amenability hearing under R.C. 2152.12(B)(3) may be waived provided (1) the juvenile, through counsel, expressly states on the record a waiver of the amenability hearing and (2) the juvenile court engages in a colloquy on the record with the juvenile to determine that the waiver was made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.

Concluding Observations

In analyzing the oral argument, I noted that the key exchange of the day was when Justice Pfeifer suggested there might be a “third way” between the defense position that an amenability hearing could not be waived and the state’s position that it could be, and that this one had been properly waived. He suggested that a third position might be that there could be a waiver, if properly done, but the one in this case wasn’t. He noted that at a minimum, the judge would need to explain this is a different charge, explore any relevant changes in the child’s life, review the necessary statutory factors, determine if there have been any changes since the previous bindover, and determine whether the child, after consultation with counsel, wished to waive.  I predicted the Court would go this route, and it did.

My other observation is that Chief Justice O’Connor really seems to want to own the special protections to be afforded juveniles.  She wrote the very important In Re C.S. decision, and an impassioned dissent in the recently decided case of In Re M.W.  I say good for her.



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