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Court News Ohio

Supreme Court Upholds Statutory Process for Invoking Adult Portion of ‘Blended’ Sentence In Serious Youthful Offender Cases

The Supreme Court of Ohio today upheld as constitutional provisions of the state’s “Serious Youthful Offender” (SYO) statute that: 1) authorize a juvenile court to invoke (activate) the previously stayed adult portion of a blended SYO sentence based on factual findings made by a judge rather than by a jury; and 2) allow a juvenile judge to make the required findings to invoke the adult portion of an SYO sentence under a “clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof, rather than a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

Based on the specific facts of the case, the court also held that the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court acted without jurisdiction when it resentenced the defendant after he had turned 21 in order to add a required term of post-release control following completion of his prison term.

The court’s 5-2 majority opinion, authored by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, partially affirmed and partially reversed rulings by the Eighth District Court of Appeals.

Ohio’s SYO statute, R.C. 2152.14, addresses cases involving the most severe and violent juvenile offenses. It authorizes a juvenile court to sentence an offender classified as an SYO not only to a term of incarceration in a juvenile prison, but also to a stayed adult prison term. The statute allows the juvenile court to activate the stayed adult portion of the offender’s sentence by conducting a hearing at which the judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that, while serving his juvenile sentence, the defendant has engaged in conduct that would be chargeable as a violent felony or first degree misdemeanor if committed by an adult, and that the offender is “unlikely to be rehabilitated during the remaining period of juvenile jurisdiction.”

This case involved a juvenile identified by the initials J.V. who was adjudicated as an SYO in 2005, when he was 17, and given a blended sentence that included a stayed adult prison term of three years. While J.V. was serving his juvenile sentence, the state moved to activate the stayed adult prison term based on evidence that he had been involved in a fight in the juvenile facility.  At a hearing in February 2009, when J.V. was 20, the juvenile court made findings pursuant to R.C. 2152.14 that he met the criteria for invoking his adult sentence, and ordered that he serve three years in adult prison.  J.V. turned 21 on March 11, 2009.

In January 2010, the Eighth District Court of Appeals vacated his sentence and remanded the case for resentencing because the juvenile court had not included a required term of postrelease control. In February 2010, the juvenile court conducted a new sentencing hearing at which it reimposed the adult sentence and added the required term of postrelease control. The revised sentencing order was upheld on appeal by the Eighth District.

J.V. sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the Eighth District’s decision.

Writing for the majority in today’s decision, Justice Pfeifer rejected J.V.’s claims that R.C. 2152.14 violated his constitutional right to have factual findings increasing his sentence made by a jury, or his right to have criminal charges resulting in his imprisonment proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Justice Pfeifer noted that J.V. based his constitutional arguments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) that, “(o)ther than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” Justice Pfeifer wrote: “We conclude that the Apprendi line of cases is not even in play, because the juvenile court did not increase the penalty that J.V. was subject to. Apprendi does not prohibit all judicial fact-finding; it prohibits only that which increases the penalty beyond the statutory maximum. The ‘statutory maximum’ is the maximum sentence ‘allowed by the jury verdict or by the defendant’s admissions at a plea hearing.’”    
“In this case, based on delinquency admissions, J.V. was sentenced to a blended sentence. The adult portion of the sentence was stayed, ‘pending the successful completion of the traditional juvenile disposition.’ ... When the juvenile court invoked the stayed sentence because J.V. did not successfully complete his juvenile disposition, the judge did not increase J.V.’s sentence; he merely removed the stay.  The sentence had already been imposed.” 

“There is no question that the statutory scheme allows, indeed requires, juvenile courts to make factual determinations before invoking the stayed adult portion of a blended sentence. We conclude that when an invocation hearing is properly conducted pursuant to R.C. 2152.14, as in this case, the juvenile’s right to a trial by jury is not even implicated, let alone violated.”

With regard to J.V.’s claim based on the burden of proof required to invoke his adult sentence, Justice Pfeifer pointed out that an invocation hearing under the SYO statute is not a full-fledged criminal proceeding, but is similar to the hearing conducted when a court decides whether to impose a suspended sentence or revoke parole after a previously convicted offender has violated the conditions under which he or she was granted freedom from custody.

He wrote: “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. The clear-and-convincing-evidence standard allowed by R.C. 2152.14(E)(1) is less rigorous, though stronger than a mere preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. We have stated that clear and convincing evidence is that ‘which will produce in the mind of the trier of facts a firm belief or conviction as to the facts sought to be established.’ ... The standard requires the judge to have a firm belief or conviction about the facts adduced.  We conclude that there is nothing fundamentally unfair about a statutory scheme that authorizes a judge to reach conclusions about facts according to a clear-and-convincing-evidence standard, as R.C. 2152.14(E)(1) does.”

Finally, Justice Pfeifer cited the plain language of the state law defining the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, which limits that jurisdiction to “a person who is adjudicated a delinquent child or juvenile traffic offender prior to attaining 18 years of age until the person attains 21 years of age.”   He wrote “This language is straightforward ... There is no need to interpret the statute, we need only apply the facts of this case to the law ... J.V. turned 21 on March 11, 2009.  Accordingly, the juvenile court had no jurisdiction over him after that date. Nevertheless, in February 2010, it held a de novo sentencing hearing to correct the original juvenile disposition, which did not mention postrelease control. At that time, the juvenile court imposed the adult sentence and added postrelease control.  Based on the plain language of R.C. 2152.02(C)(6), the juvenile court did not have jurisdiction over J.V. There can be no doubt that the juvenile court acted outside its jurisdiction and therefore that the disposition issued in February 2010 is void.”

Justice Pfeifer’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith Ann Lanzinger, Robert R. Cupp and Yvette McGee Brown.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell entered a partial dissent, joined by Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, in which he agreed that the challenged provisions of the SYO statute are constitutional, but disagreed with the majority’s holding that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to resentence J.V. after he had reached the age of 21. Justice O’Donnell noted that under this court’s 2010 holding in State v. Fischer, when a defendant must be resentenced based on a trial court’s failure to properly include a mandatory term of postrelease control, the court’s finding of guilt and lawful elements of the original sentence remain valid and binding, and any subsequent appeal from the resentencing is limited to issues arising at the resentencing hearing. 

He wrote: “In  my view, Fischer applies to this case and supports the appellate court’s resolution of this matter. In this case, the trial court invoked the adult portion of the blended sentence before J.V. reach the age of 21, and the court’s failure to properly impose postrelease control did not affect the lawful part of the sentence imposed on June 22, 2005, which was ordered into execution on February 5, 2009, and included a term of imprisonment. ...   Moreover, the juvenile court had authority to correct the void part of the sentence in order to properly impose postrelease control, even after J.V. reached 21 years of age. ... Not only did the juvenile court retain jurisdiction to correct the void part of J.V.’s sentence, but also the mandate of the appellate court required it to do so. ... In my view, then, the juvenile court had inherent authority to correct the adult portion of the blended sentence.”

Justice Yvette McGee Brown also entered a separate opinion, joined by Chief Justice O’Connor and Justice Cupp, in which she disagreed with the legal analysis of Justice O’Donnell’s dissent. Justice McGee Brown wrote: “(T)here is no dispute that the juvenile court had jurisdiction under R.C. 2152.02(C)(6) to impose postrelease control as required by law.  But the juvenile court did not correctly impose postrelease control until February 12, 2010, when J.V. was nearly 22 and the juvenile court no longer had jurisdiction over the case.”

“Contrary to the argument of the dissent, neither the juvenile court nor this court has authority to grant jurisdiction when there is none.  ... This case has revealed a gap in the law that should be addressed by the legislature. This is an unfortunate result that was not intended by the legislature. However, the error here is not the juvenile’s exercise of his right of appeal.”

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

2011-0107.  In re J.V., Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-4961.
Cuyahoga App. No. 94820, 2010-Ohio-5490.  Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part.
O’Connor, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lanzinger, Cupp, and McGee Brown, JJ., concur.
Lundberg Stratton and O’Donnell, JJ., concur in part and dissent in part.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2012/2012-Ohio-4961.pdf

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