Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Conviction Affirmed for Teen Transferred to Adult Court for Six-Month Crime Spree

The Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed all but one conviction of a 16-year-old Cleveland teen who went on a six-month crime spree, which included the attempted murder of an elderly couple and robbery of a television news crew.

The Supreme Court ruled the adult charges that Eddie Burns agreed to plead guilty to stemmed from acts from which a juvenile court found probable cause before transferring the case to adult court. Convictions for those crimes were affirmed; however, one charge of aggravated robbery was based on acts for which the juvenile court did not find probable cause, and was vacated today by the Supreme Court.

The Court accepted Burns’s appeal of his conviction and 27-year prison sentence in 2020. As the case was pending, the Court issued State v. Smith, a case that included arguments similar to Burns’s objections to his conviction. In the 2022 Smith decision, the Court ruled that when a juvenile court finds no probable cause that a child committed a criminal act, then an adult court has no authority to re-charge or prosecute the juvenile on that charge.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Melody Stewart noted that while the law does not allow an adult court to move forward with charges for which no probable cause was found, a prosecutor can charge a juvenile with additional counts in adult court that were not presented in juvenile court as long as the new charges are rooted in the acts there were the subject of the juvenile complaint.

In Burns’s case, two convictions for the attempted murder of Willie and Della Watts were only considered in adult court but were based on conduct that was in the juvenile complaint and were affirmed.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Jennifer Brunner joined Justice Stewart’s opinion.

In an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote that the Court should have affirmed Burns’s convictions for all charges, including the aggravated robbery of Victor Ford, even though the juvenile court found no probable cause that Burns committed the crime.

Justice Kennedy explained that the juvenile transfer law, R.C. 2152.12, is “plain and unambiguous.” When the juvenile court transfers the case to the adult court, the adult court has jurisdiction over the case, including all the acts charged in the juvenile complaint, regardless of whether the juvenile court had found probable cause for those counts.

Justice Kennedy wrote that the plain reading of the statute is supported by other provisions in the statutory scheme. She pointed to R.C. 2151.23(H), which states that after a transfer of the case, the adult court has authority to hear and determine the case “in the same manner as if the case originally had been commenced in that court.” 

She stated the Smith decision, in which she dissented, was wrongly decided, and maintained that “Smith must be completely overturned.” 

Justices Patrick F. Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine joined Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

Teen Faces Adult Charges for Violent Crime Spree
In March 2018, Burns was charged in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court with 58 counts that constituted crimes if committed by an adult. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office requested that, under R.C. 2152.12, the juvenile court use its discretion to transfer the case to adult court.

After a hearing , the juvenile court found probable cause that Burns committed 42 of the 58 counts and bound him over to face the charges in adult court. The prosecutor’s office filed a complaint similar to the one in juvenile court, and a grand juryindicted Burns on 56 counts.

Burns reached a plea deal with the prosecutor and pleaded guilty to 10 charges. The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court accepted the guilty plea and sentenced him to 27 years in prison.

Burns appealed his conviction to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, arguing that he faced additional prison time for counts in adult court that should not have been charged because the juvenile court had found no probable cause that he committed the crimes. He also argued the grand jury could not indict him for the attempted murders of the Wattses because he was not charged with those crimes in juvenile court. The couple were in their 70s when Burns attacked them in their driveway, beating them severely.

The Eighth District affirmed Burns’s conviction based on case law that existed before the Smith decision. It found the prosecutor could bring any charges it could prove in adult court regardless of whether the juvenile court found probable cause.

Today’s decision affirmed the judgment of the Eighth District affirming Burns’s convictions, except for the one count of aggravated robbery. Because the juvenile court determined that the aggravated robbery charge was not supported by probable cause, the Court reversed the portion of the appeals court’s judgment for that charge and vacated the conviction.

The decision also affirmed Burns’s conviction for the December 2017 aggravated robbery of Cleveland Channel 19 News reporter Lacy Mathy and photographer Eric Walls.

2020-1126. State v. Burns, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-4606.

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