Merit Decision: Statutory Right of Juvenile Judge to Invoke the Adult Portion of a Blended Sentence Upheld, but Juvenile Court Jurisdiction Ends at Age 21. In Re. J.V.

On October 30, 2012 the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a merit decision in In Re J.V.,  2012-Ohio-4961.  The case was argued December 7, 2011.  The Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of R.C. 2152.14, which allows the juvenile court to invoke the stayed adult portion of a juvenile’s blended—i.e. part juvenile, part adult—serious youthful offender dispositional sentence. But the Court split 5-2 on the issue of whether the juvenile court had jurisdiction to impose punishment, including previously omitted post-release control, after the juvenile turned twenty-one. Justice Pfeifer wrote the majority decision for the Court, finding no jurisdiction to impose punishment after age twenty-one.  Justice O’Donnell wrote the dissent on the jurisdiction issue, joined by Justice Stratton.

Useful Information in Understanding this Decision

Read the blog’s explanation of Ohio’s Serious Youthful Offender Statute here.

Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000)

The U.S. Supreme Court held that “[o]ther than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt… ”

State v. D.H.

In this 2009 case, also written by Justice  Pfeifer, the Court held that R.C. 2152.13(D)(2)(a)(i),  which requires a juvenile court judge to consider certain factors before imposing a serious-youthful-offender dispositional sentence, did not violate the juvenile’s jury trial rights under the federal or state constitutions.  In the D.H. case, the Court summarized R.C. 2152.14, but did not address the ramifications of the invocation provision of the statute in light of case following Apprendi.

State v. Fischer

In 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court held that when a judge fails to impose statutorily mandated post release control as part of a defendant’s sentence, that part of the sentence is void and must be set aside. Syllabus paragraph four states that “the scope of an appeal from a resentencing hearing in which a mandatory term of post release control is imposed is limited to issues arising at the resentencing hearing.”

Case Background

Pursuant to a plea agreement involving a number of offenses, in June 2005, the juvenile court judge imposed a blended sentence on J.V. of two years minimum at the Ohio Department of Youth Services, plus a stayed adult sentence of six years. In October of 2008, because of additional misconduct by J.V. the state moved to invoke the adult portion of his blended sentence. The trial court did impose the adult portion of J.V.’s sentence while he was still a minor. But in imposing sentence in this case, the trial court failed, following appeals and remands—to notify J.V. correctly of his post release control obligations or to include post release control in the judgment entry.  In February of 2010, on its third sentencing attempt, the trial court for the second time imposed the adult portion of J.V.’s sentence and finally correctly added post release control.  But by then J.V. was almost twenty-two years old. In the final sentencing appeal, the Eighth District Court of Appeals held that the earlier imposition of the adult sentence was not impacted by the remand to properly incorporate post release control in J.V.’s dispositional sentence.

Constitutionality of R.C. 2152.14

This statute allows a juvenile court judge to invoke the previously stayed adult portion of a blended sentence.  J.V. argued that this invocation provision violated his jury trial and due process rights under both the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions, because it allowed a judge, rather than a jury, to make the factual findings necessary to invoke the adult portion of his sentence.  In making this argument he relied on Apprendi v. New Jersey.  He also argued that a standard of proof less than beyond a reasonable doubt to invoke the adult portion of his sentence violated his due process rights. R.C. 2152.14(E)(1) sets the standard at clear and convincing evidence.

Judicial Fact Finding

The Court made short shrift of the jury trial argument, even though it seemed to have some legs at oral argument.  It found the entire Apprendi  line of cases inapposite,  because the juvenile judge did not increase J.V.’s penalty—the judge simply removed the stay from a previously imposed sentence , namely the uninvoked adult portion of J.V.’s blended sentence. And the Court held long ago that juveniles do not have a right to a jury trial in delinquency proceedings.

Due Process

The Court also rejected J.V.’s argument that the invocation of the stayed adult sentence based only on clear and convincing evidence violated due process. J.V. argued that the fact finding at an invocation hearing must be done by a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard.  In upholding the statutory clear and convincing standard, the Court analogized the invocation proceeding to the imposition of a suspended sentence, or to post release control, rather than to the delinquency proceeding.  Many of the justices made this analogy at the oral argument. “Because the invocation proceeding is not a criminal proceeding, the fact-finding need not be according to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard required in criminal trials, “Pfeifer wrote. Noting that J.V. had notice of the invocation hearing, was present, had counsel, and had the right to call and examine witnesses, the Court concluded J.V. was not denied due process because of the lesser standard in this case.

The Jurisdiction Issue

For Justice Pfeifer, writing for the majority, this one was easy.  R.C. 2152.02(C)(6) states that juvenile courts have jurisdiction over adjudicated delinquents until they are twenty-one. When the juvenile court (on the third try) held a sentencing hearing in February of 2010 to impose the adult sentence and to add post release control, J.V. was already twenty one.  So the February 2010 disposition—which imposed the adult portion of the blended sentence, and added post release control–was void.

Separate Concurrence

Justice McGee Brown wrote a separate concurrence for herself, Justice Cupp, and Chief Justice O’Connor, to refute the dissenters points on jurisdiction. She reviewed in detail the long procedural history in the case, noting that by the time the trial court finally got it all right in the sentencing entry J.V. had turned twenty-one, and the Supreme Court had no authority to grant jurisdiction where there is none.

The Dissent

Justice O’Donnell dissented on the jurisdiction question, joined by Justice Stratton. He first agreed with the court of appeals that the trial court correctly invoked the adult portion of the blended sentence before J.V. turned twenty-one, and that part of the sentence was not impacted by the subsequent remand to include post release control. He sees the case as controlled by State v. Fischer.  The only sentencing error still remaining after J.V. turned twenty-one was the failure to impose post release control, so the final sentencing hearing was limitedonly to post release control issues. He also argued that the juvenile court retained jurisdiction to correct a void sentence, so the trial court did have jurisdiction in this case to impose post release control, even after J.V. turned 21. He worried that the practical result of the majority decision was to encourage serious youthful offenders to appeal any blended sentence in the hope they will turn 21 before the juvenile court can invoke the adult portion of the sentence.

Case Syllabus


Concluding Observations

It was clear at oral argument that all the justices approve of the blended sentence scheme for juveniles. There seemed little doubt the Court would uphold the constitutionality of 2152.14. The Court has really cut juveniles a lot of slack in recent cases, but wasn’t likely to dismantle the Serious Youthful Offender statute. And as for J.V. turning twenty-one before the trial court finally got the sentencing entry straight– well,  I guess the third time isn’t always a charm.



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