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Court News Ohio

Juvenile Court Lost Right to Send Serious Youthful Offender to Adult Prison

Hours before he was ordered to serve two years in adult prison for an offense he committed when he was 17, a Cuyahoga County man turned 21 years old, and the juvenile court lost jurisdiction to imprison him, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled that a Cuyahoga County juvenile court judge invoked the adult sentence for a juvenile labeled a “serious youthful offender” on May 22, 2017, a day before his 21st birthday. But that order was not entered on the clerk of court's journal until the next business day.

Writing for the Court, Justice Melody Stewart stated that since the man, identified in court records as A.W., legally turned 21 a minute after midnight on the date the order took effect, the juvenile court lost jurisdiction over his case and no longer had the authority to send him to adult prison. The Court vacated the adult portion of A.W.’s serious youthful offender (SYO) juvenile disposition.

The opinion explained that because the Court found the sentence was invalid, it did not address the legal issue the Court agreed to consider when it accepted the case. The Court was to consider A.W.’s contention that he was not given adequate notice of the conditions he needed to abide by as a juvenile to avoid triggering the adult portion of his SYO sentence.

Delays Lead to Short Juvenile Confinement
Cuyahoga County prosecutors filed a complaint in 2014 that A.W.’s actions in 2013 would constitute rape if committed by an adult. A.W. was 17 at the time of the offense. A.W. conceded he “went on the run” and avoided court hearings on the matter. He did not admit to the charges until October 2016 when he was 20 years old.

Because the offense occurred when he was a minor, he was under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The juvenile court placed A.W. in Department of Youth Services (DYS) custody until his 21st birthday, and declared him to be a SYO. The court imposed a stayed three-year adult prison term. At his October 2016 court appearance, the juvenile judge indicated on the record the desire to have “sex offender treatment put in place for ODYS.” However, the written entry of the disposition did not mention sex-offender treatment.

Juvenile Court Updates Orders
Three months after confining A.W. to DYS, the juvenile court conducted another hearing and then ordered A.W. to “participate and engage in sex offender treatment,” and stated that failure to engage in treatment might result in the court invoking the stayed three-year adult prison sentence.

In May 2017, the juvenile court learned A.W. was unable to complete sex-offender treatment for a number of reasons, including his initial failure to participate in sex-offender treatment when entering DYS; the department’s failure to provide a treatment option that would allow him to finish a treatment program by May 2017; and the juvenile court’s failure to make a specific order for treatment at the time of the October 2016 disposition.

A week before he turned 21, prosecutors asked the juvenile court to impose the adult prison sentence. The day before A.W.’s birthday, the court conducted a hearing and found that A.W.’s lack of rehabilitation was due in large part to his failure to avail himself of the juvenile system by dodging court hearings for years and not participating in treatment while in custody. The judge invoked the adult sentence, but reduced the sentence from three years to two years.

A.W. appealed his sentence to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which affirmed the juvenile court’s decision. It found A.W. was aware of the judge’s intention that he complete sex-offender treatment and that he had seven months in DYS custody to undergo treatment to avoid the adult sentence.

A.W. appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to consider his argument that he was not given adequate notice that failure to complete DYS programming would trigger the adult sentence.

Courts ‘Speak’ Through Journal Entry
Justice Stewart explained juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over anyone under 18 years old who is alleged to be delinquent. The court retains the authority to end or modify orders regarding the juvenile until the youth turns 21.

In reversing the Eighth District’s decision, the opinion cited a 2009 Ohio appeals court decision, State v. Yarger, which ruled a person’s date of birth begins at 12:01 a.m. of the birthdate. A.W. turned 21 on the morning of May 23, 2017. The clerk of court’s journal entry of the juvenile court’s decision from the prior day appeared on May 23, after A.W. had legally turned 21.

“A court speaks only through its journal,” the opinion stated. “Because the clerk did not journalize the order invoking the adult portion of the SYO sentence until after A.W. turned 21, the juvenile court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over him. The order is, therefore, void.”

2018-1182. In re A.W., Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-1457.

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