Oral Argument Preview: Can a Prior Juvenile Adjudication Be Used to Enhance an Adult Sentence? State of Ohio v. Adrian Hand, Jr.

Update: On August 25, 2016, the Supreme Court of Ohio handed down a merit decision in this case. Read the analysis here.

Read the analysis of the oral argument here.

On December 1, 2015 the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the case of State of Ohio v. Adrian L. Hand, Jr. 2014-1814. At issue in this case is whether a prior juvenile adjudication should be considered a prior conviction for the purposes of sentencing enhancement.

Case Background

When appellant Adrian L. Hand, Jr. was a juvenile, he was adjudicated delinquent for aggravated robbery, a first degree felony if committed by an adult. As an adult, Hand pled no contest to aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, and a firearm specification. The State argued that Hand must receive a six year mandatory sentence based on his prior juvenile adjudication. Hand contended that only three years of his sentence were mandatory since his prior adjudication was not an adult conviction. The trial court agreed with the State and Hand was sentenced to a mandatory six-year prison term. Hand then appealed the trial court’s decision to the Second District Court of Appeals.

In a split decision, Judge Hall, joined by Judge Welbaum, affirmed, and held that treating Hand’s delinquency adjudication as a prior conviction for purposes of imposing a mandatory prison sentence did not violate his due process rights. In a lengthy dissent almost akin to a law review article, Judge Donovan, while acknowledging a split of authority nationally on this issue, highlighted the recent jurisprudence emphasizing the significant ways in which juveniles are different from adults. Inter alia, Judge Donovan also noted the different purposes behind juvenile proceedings, the prevalence of juvenile pleas, and the lack of a jury trial. Ultimately, she concludes the majority’s decision undermines Ohio’s developed juvenile system that presumes juveniles are not as culpable as adults for their acts.

Key Statutes and Precedent

R.C. 2152.01 (A) (“The overriding purposes for dispositions under this chapter are to provide for the care, protection, and mental and physical development of children subject to this chapter, protect the public interest and safety, hold the offender accountable for the offender’s actions, restore the victim, and rehabilitate the offender. These purposes shall be achieved by a system of graduated sanctions and services.”)

R.C. 2929.13 (F)(6) (A first- or second-degree felony sentence must be mandatory if the defendant had a prior conviction for another first- or second degree felony, or any other equivalent offense)

Apprendi v. New Jersey 544 U.S. 466 (2000) (Any fact, other than recidivism, that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.)

Alleyne v. United States 570 U.S. ___ (2013) (Facts that increase mandatory minimum sentences must be submitted to the jury.)

State v. Parker 2012-Ohip-4741 (8th Dist.) (The imposition of a sentence enhancement based on a juvenile defendant’s nonjury trial adjudication does not violate the defendant’s due process rights or run afoul of Apprendi.)

U.S. v. Tighe 266 F. 3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001) (A nonjury juvenile delinquency adjudication may not be used as a means to increase a maximum statutory penalty.)

U.S. v. Crowell 493 F. 3d 744 (6th Cir. 2007) (Sentence enhancement predicated on a juvenile adjudication absent a jury finding is permissible so long as the adjudication is sufficiently reliable so as to not offend constitutional rights.)

Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012) (Children are less culpable than adults. Imposing a mandatory sentence of life without parole on a juvenile is cruel and unusual punishment and thereby violates the Eighth Amendment).

In re C.P., 2012-Ohio-1446 (“The protections and rehabilitative aims of the juvenile process must remain paramount; we must recognize that juvenile offenders are less culpable and more amenable to reform than adult offenders.”)

Hand’s Argument

As an adult, Hand had the right, just as every citizen does, to a jury trial and due process under the law. And he acknowledges that the Supreme Court of the United States has determined a prior jury conviction may be used as an aggravating circumstance for sentence enhancement. That is not what happened in this case; a prior juvenile adjudication, determined without a jury, has been improperly used to enhance his adult sentence. That violates Hand’s due process rights, and runs afoul of Apprendi.

First, a juvenile adjudication is categorically different from a felony conviction. A juvenile adjudication is a civil proceeding, focused on rehabilitation. Children  are far more malleable and receptive to changing than adults. A juvenile adjudication used to enhance a felony punishment undermines the juvenile system’s purported role in protecting and rehabilitating children. The differences in a juvenile adjudication also implicates constitutional concerns. Juveniles are classified as delinquent through an adjudication, whereas adults are found guilty through a conviction. But the trustworthiness that comes from a conviction by a jury is dissipated without it. Because children lack the right to a jury in their juvenile proceedings, the results of those proceedings cannot be used as “convictions.”

Second, as this is a case of first impression in Ohio, the appeals court should have focused its analysis on the overarching goals of Ohio’s juvenile justice system.  Ohio jurisprudence has made it abundantly clear that juveniles are in an entirely separate category where the driving force is rehabilitation and not punishment. If juvenile adjudications are weighted the same as an adult conviction, it contradicts the intended purpose behind the juvenile criminal structure, and would re-focus juvenile adjudication away from rehabilitation and toward punishment.

Hand argues that allowing the use of a juvenile adjudication as a penalty enhancement runs counter to the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on why juveniles are different from and less culpable than adults. In recent years, on a national basis, more and more cases, scholarship and research have recognized fundamental differences between juveniles and adults. As such, protection for juveniles has increased. This protection should not be retroactively rescinded and then used against an adult in a different criminal proceeding several years later.

State’s Argument

Offenses by juveniles do have consequences for them as adults. The court has already held that a delinquency adjudication can raise a driving under the influence offense from a first-degree misdemeanor for a first offense, to a fourth-degree felony for a sixth offense, so long as the juvenile had proper representation or effectively waived his or her right to counsel.

The Supreme Court of the United States has also made it patently clear that a juvenile’s former conviction may be used later on in a sentencing scheme. An overwhelming majority of courts that have considered this issue have found that prior juvenile adjudications may be properly used in sentencing enhancement. Furthermore, constitutional protection is still in place during juvenile adjudications— the right to notice, the right to counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, the right to introduce evidence on his own behalf, the privilege against self-incrimination, protection against double jeopardy, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are all still rights afforded to juveniles. With all of these safeguards present, the adjudication reliably withstands constitutional muster and may be used for later sentencing as permitted by state statute.  The mere absence of a jury trial in juvenile court in no way weakens the adjudication’s reliability.

 Hand’s Proposed Proposition of Law

The use of a prior juvenile adjudication to enhance an adult sentence violates a defendant’s right to due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 16 of the Ohio Constitution, and the right to trial by jury as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 5 of the Ohio Constitution.

State’s Proposed Counter Proposition of Law

Despite the absence of the right to trial by jury in most juvenile cases, treating a juvenile delinquency adjudication as a prior conviction to enhance the sentence imposed upon a defendant for a subsequent conviction that the defendant commits as an adult does not offend due process and falls within the prior-conviction exception set out in Apprendi v. New Jersey.

Amicus in Support of the State

Amicus, Ohio Attorney General (OAG) Mike DeWine filed a brief in support of the State. In its brief, the OAG focuses on the application of Apprendi to the facts here. A large majority of jurisdictions have held that Apprendi does not require a jury finding on the fact of a prior conviction.

Further, the fact of a prior juvenile offense falls within the scope of the recidivism exception. Recidivism has long been recognized as a basis for enhanced sentencing. Only a fact that is an element of the offense must be presented to the jury. Recidivism enhancements are not an element of the offense, and do not need to be submitted to or proved by a jury.

Furthermore, even if Apprendi applied here, it would not supply relief. Hand has admitted that he committed the crime as juvenile. If the court finds that this case does not fit within the Apprendi exception, the case would be remanded for a jury finding as to whether Hand committed the aforementioned crimes as a juvenile. As this is not in dispute, the mandatory sentence would then still apply. Hand is not entitled to a jury trial as a trial by jury is only required to determine the elements of the present crime with which a defendant is charged.

Amicus, Ohio Attorney General’s Proposed Counter Proposition of Law

Although recidivism increases the penalty for a crime, it is not an element of the offense, and so the historic practice outlined in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000), does not require the fact of recidivism, whether based on a prior juvenile delinquency or a prior adult conviction, to be presented to a jury.

Student Contributor: Austin Lipuma

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