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Court News Ohio

Juvenile Offenses Can Be Used to Convict Adult of Illegal Firearm Possession

The state may criminalize firearm possession by adults who were adjudicated delinquent for committing certain crimes as juveniles, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today, upholding a man’s conviction on that basis.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court found there was no violation of Anthony Carnes’ constitutional due process rights when he was convicted of having a weapon under disability. The “disability” was a 1994 adjudication of delinquency for committing felonious assault. Writing for the Court majority, Justice Mary DeGenaro wrote that R.C. 2923.13 — the weapons-under-disability law — lists several reasons short of an adult criminal conviction that allow the state to prevent a person from carrying a firearm, including a juvenile adjudication.

The Court affirmed the decision of the Hamilton County-based First District Court of Appeals. Justices Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine, former First District judges, recused themselves from the case as did Justice Sharon L. Kennedy.

Justice DeGenaro’s opinion was joined by Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Judith L. French. Ninth District Judge Lynne S. Callahan, and Tenth District Judges William A. Klatt and Lisa L. Sadler, sitting for the recused justices, also joined the opinion.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor dissented, writing she would find the use of a juvenile adjudication as an element of an adult’s disability unconstitutional. She stated that having the consequences of a juvenile act follow the person into adulthood without any time limit was “profoundly unfair.”

Fight Leads to Delinquency Charge
In 1994, when Carnes was 16, he got into a fight with another teenage boy. Carnes punched the boy in the face, causing the boy to lose four teeth. Carnes was arrested after the fight. He appeared in juvenile court with his mother, but without an attorney. He accepted a plea agreement for a crime that would have been felonious assault if he were an adult. He was sent to a residential treatment facility.

Twenty years later, in 2014, police responded to reports of shots being fired near Carnes’ home, and police subsequently found a gun linked to Carnes by DNA evidence in his home. He was charged with having a weapon under disability and aggravating menacing. The trial court dropped the aggravating menacing charge.

The basis for the disability was his 1994 juvenile adjudication. Carnes asked the trial court to dismiss the indictment, asserting that his adjudication proceeding, which occurred without him having an attorney, cannot be counted toward convicting him of adult criminal conduct. The trial court denied his request and a jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He appealed to the First District, which affirmed the trial court in a split decision. He appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case.

Juvenile Relies on Recent Court Decisions
Justice DeGenaro wrote that Carnes cites two recent Ohio Supreme Court decisions as the basis for his argument that the juvenile violation cannot be a factor in an adult crime without violating his due process rights. He asked the Court to consider its 2015 State v. Bode decision, and its 2017 State v. Hand ruling, both dealing with enhanced penalties for adult crimes based in part on juvenile adjudications.

The opinion explained that Bode did not permit the state to use a juvenile adjudication for operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI) to enhance the penalty for a subsequent adult OVI conviction. And in Hand, the Court ruled it was unconstitutional to use a juvenile adjudication for aggravated robbery to enhance the penalty for a later adult felony conviction.

The majority stated the impermissible statute in HandR.C. 2901.08(A) — directed the court to count a juvenile adjudication as an adult conviction, escalating the juvenile offense to the equivalent of the adult offense even though a juvenile proceeding is a civil process without the minor receiving the same criminal procedural safeguards as an adult.

In contrast, the weapons-under-disability law lists “several discrete, alternative disability conditions,” that include, but are not limited, to adult convictions and juvenile adjudications, the Court wrote. The opinion noted the law specifically states a person “under indictment for” or has been convicted or adjudicated as a delinquent for a felony offense can be barred from carrying a firearm. The law also bars fugitives from justice; those indicted, convicted, or adjudicated delinquent as a minor for certain drug offenses; persons deemed to be drug dependent, “in danger of drug dependence,” or chronic alcoholics; and those adjudicated mentally incompetent from carrying a gun.

Unlike the laws in question in Bode and Hand, the juvenile adjudication does not enhance the penalty. It is the “disability” that deprives the person of the right to carry a gun, the Court wrote. In crafting the law, the majority noted the General Assembly established several reasons that are less than a criminal conviction to bar possession of a firearm.

The Court also noted R.C. 2923.13 includes a process where those who were prohibited from having a firearm can apply to a common pleas court to have the weapons disability relieved. The court can approve the request for those who have completed their punishment and are not determined to be ineligible for possession for some other reason.

“Notably, Carnes failed to avail himself of this process,” the opinion stated.

The legislature made a policy decision that allowing weapons in the hands of adults with prior juvenile adjudication poses an increased risk to public safety, as does allowing those with other disabling conditions such as chronic alcoholism and drug dependence, the Court wrote. The opinion concluded the law did not create a fundamental unfairness to Carnes.

Law Ignores Difference of Juvenile and Adult Criminal Justice Systems, Dissent Asserts
In her dissenting opinion, Chief Justice O’Connor wrote that R.C. 2923.13 fails to consider the difference between the adult and juvenile court systems, particularly the juvenile justice system’s focus on rehabilitation. She indicated the effect of the law is that a juvenile adjudication may punish the offender throughout adulthood without any notice to the juvenile that the disability exists.

The chief justice noted that if a crime is serious enough to merit adult consequences, then the state can request the case be transferred from juvenile to adult court, or request the juvenile court treat the accused as a serious youthful offender. She maintained using a juvenile adjudication to trigger an adult disability is not fundamentally different from using it as a sentencing enhancement, which the Court struck down in Hand.

The dissent also noted the law does not align with the mounting scientific evidence about brain development that supports limiting punishment for youthful indiscretions to the period when a person is under the jurisdiction of the juvenile system.

“Allowing a juvenile offense that is not serious enough to merit transfer to an adult court to follow Carnes for 20 years directly contradicts the current scientific understanding of the juvenile brain. And it is inconsistent with Ohio’s juvenile-justice system, which is based on rehabilitation, not punishment,” the dissent stated.

The chief justice would reverse the judgment of the First District and prohibit the use of a juvenile adjudication to trigger an adult disability.

2017-0087. State v. Carnes, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-3256.

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