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Adult Registration as Sex Offender Based on Juvenile Court Orders Constitutional

Requiring a Hamilton County man to register as an adult sex offender for acts he committed while he was a juvenile does not violate his constitutional rights, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

majority ruled the sex offender registration requirements that the juvenile court imposed following Robert Buttery’s 2011 adjudication as a delinquent for sex offenses can be used as the basis to convict Buttery for failure to register as an adult.  Buttery challenged his 2015 conviction for failing to register when he was 19 years old. The Court affirmed the First District Court of Appeals decision upholding Buttery’s conviction.

Buttery’s challenge to the constitutionality of the registration law was based on the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2016 State v. Hand decision.  Hand dealt with a statute that required penalties for certain felonies to be harsher for defendants who had prior convictions, and in that case the Court held that it was fundamentally unfair to treat the defendant’s juvenile adjudication as a “prior conviction,” because juvenile adjudications do not include the right to trial by jury.

Writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy stated that Buttery’s case was distinguishable from Hand because, among other reasons, Buttery faced punishment not just because of a prior juvenile adjudication but because he had violated a court’s order to register as a sex offender.

Today’s opinion compares the two cases as well as the 2018 State v. Carnes decision, where the Court found a juvenile delinquency adjudication could be used as an element in convicting an adult of a felony.

Justices Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, and Melody J. Stewart joined Justice Kennedy’s opinion. The opinion was also joined by Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Eileen A. Gallagher, sitting in for Justice Patrick F. Fischer, who did not participate in the case.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor concurred in judgment only with a written opinion. She wrote in Hand and Carnes that the law “reached back in time” to use a prior juvenile adjudication to impose an adult sentence. In contrast, Buttery’s adult conviction is based on actions he took as an adult — failing to register.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Michael P. Donnelly wrote that Buttery was punished as an adult for acts he committed as a juvenile, which he stated is “fundamentally unfair.”

Juvenile Court Imposed Registration Requirement
Buttery was 14 when he committed two counts of what would have been fourth-degree felony gross sexual imposition had he been an adult at the time. He was adjudicated as delinquent in juvenile court in October 2011 and placed in a treatment facility.

In 2012, the juvenile court conducted a hearing and classified Buttery as a Tier 1 sex offender and he was ordered to comply with registration and verification duties for 10 years. He received notice of his duty to register at that time, and he and his guardian both signed a form acknowledging the responsibilities.

In 2015, Buttery was indicted for violating his registration duties under R.C. 2950.04. Because his duty to register stemmed from his juvenile adjudication, which would have been a fourth-degree felony, his failure to register was considered a fourth-degree felony. After attempting and failing to contest the charges on procedural grounds, Buttery pleaded no contest to the charge and was found guilty in June 2016. He was sentenced to three years of community control and was informed that violating community control would result in an 18-month prison term.

Buttery appealed to the First District, arguing that the March 2016 Hand decision deemed the use of a juvenile delinquency adjudication to enhance the punishment for a subsequent adult offense a violation of the due process clauses of the Ohio and U.S. constitutions. The First District affirmed the trial court’s decision, and Buttery appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Recent Decisions Explained
Justice Kennedy wrote that Buttery essentially argues that no adult who was first ordered to register as a sex offender in a juvenile proceeding may be charged with violating the failure to register requirements of R.C. 2950.04. The opinion noted the Court had already ruled in its 2016 In re D.S. decision that it is constitutional to impose a sex offense registration requirement on a juvenile offender that carries over into the offender’s adult years.

The majority opinion explained that Buttery’s case was not similar to Hand. Adrian Hand Jr. faced a criminal charge that required a mandatory prison term if the defendant had been previously convicted of a first- or second-degree felony. Hand had been adjudicated as a juvenile for a crime that would have been a first-degree felony. The trial court found the crime Hand was accused of as an adult did not indicate whether juvenile adjudications should be treated as adult convictions. The trial court chose to treat it as a conviction, which led to a prison sentence.

The Supreme Court reversed Hand’s conviction, stating that the juvenile system is civil in nature and juveniles are not given the same rights to jury trials as adults. Because the proceedings are less formal, they cannot be considered prior convictions that can  be used later to enhance adult punishment, the Court ruled in Hand.

In Carnes, the Court did not extend the ruling in Hand. Anthony Carnes was convicted of having a weapon under disability as an adult. The statute at issue, R.C. 2923.13(A)(2), includes certain types of prior juvenile-delinquency adjudications as disabilities that prohibit a person from lawfully possessing a firearm.

Justice Kennedy explained that the weapons-under-disability statute did not equate a juvenile adjudication with an adult conviction, but considered the adjudication itself as one of several discrete conditions, including being a fugitive or drug dependent, that prevented a person from legally owning a firearm.

The majority opinion noted the differences between the statutory scheme at issue in Buttery’s case and those at issue in Carnes and Hand. In both of those cases, the defendants’ juvenile adjudications led to consequences for acts committed as adults that were unrelated to their juvenile crimes. Buttery’s adjudication itself was not at issue, but rather he was charged for violating a court order to register, the Court stated.

The adjudication for committing the sex offenses is one step in the process and resulted in Buttery’s placement in treatment, the Court stated. The duty to register is not automatically imposed based on the adjudication, but takes place after a separate hearing and consideration of the facts, the opinion noted. Buttery did not face additional repercussions because of his juvenile adjudication, but rather for violating a court order that Buttery was informed about and acknowledged in writing, the Court concluded.

The opinion noted that under the sex-offender registration law, the legislature  created a process in which a person can seek to modify or terminate the duty to register. The Court stated the law gives juvenile sex offenders multiple opportunities to lift the registration requirements, and Buttery has not attempted to use the process.

“Therefore, Buttery had notice of his duty to register as well as opportunities to relieve himself of that duty; this was not an instance of a juvenile adjudication having an unknown future sentence-enhancing effect on an offense committed later in life, as in Hand,” the opinion concluded.

Offense Similar to Weapons Charge
Justice Kennedy added that Buttery’s case shares a key element with Carnes, writing: “In Carnes, this court relied on its conclusion that the existence of the juvenile adjudication, rather than its reliability, was at issue in regard to the weapons-under-disability statute.  The General Assembly had assessed the risk and determined that allowing people with juvenile adjudications involving violent felony offenses to possess firearms presented a danger.”  The Court majority reasoned that, likewise, R.C. 2950.04  “does not equate a juvenile adjudication with a criminal conviction.  Instead, it considers a person who has been adjudicated delinquent and who a judge has classified as a juvenile-offender registrant to be among those groups of people who must register as sex offenders.”  The reliability of the juvenile adjudication was not the concern in Carnes and Buttery that it was in Hand.

Offender Essentially Challenging His Status, Concurrence Stated
In her concurring opinion, Chief Justice O’Connor stated that Buttery’s case does not present key elements found in Hand and Carnes. Buttery’s conviction was based on his failure, as an adult, to register as a Tier 1 sex offender where he had a continuing obligation to do so. The Court has already ruled the obligation to register placed on a juvenile can continue past the age of 18. Buttery was convicted of failing to comply with an obligation he had as an adult, she stated.

The chief justice noted that Buttery’s arguments are essentially a challenge to his existing offender classification. She noted that he did not challenge his Tier 1 offender status in 2012, after the juvenile court hearing, or in 2015, when the juvenile court affirmed the status after releasing him from residential treatment.

Dissent Questions Juvenile Court Proceedings
In his dissent, Justice Donnelly stated the Court has no idea whether Buttery was afforded due process in juvenile court because the transcript of the hearing was not part of the record. It is possible Buttery was not fully made aware of the consequences of admitting to the allegations against him. He wrote that he would remand  the case to the First District to review the juvenile court proceedings.

Justice Donnelly also wrote that Buttery was adjudicated in a civil system designed to rehabilitate offenders, not to punish them. Requiring Buttery to register as a sex offender is part of the criminal code and is punitive, he stated.

Juvenile proceedings are kept outside of the public eye to prevent “a lifetime of stigma,” he wrote, and the successful efforts Buttery undertook to rehabilitate himself “have now been undermined; his acts are now in the public eye.”

2018-0183. State v. Buttery, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-2998.

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