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Court News Ohio

Juvenile Can Be Tried in Adult Court for Felony Murder

Image of a silver, metal table with some brown fole folders and handcuff on top.

A juvenile suspected of being either the shooter or an accomplice in a 2016 murder may be tried in adult court.

Image of a silver, metal table with some brown fole folders and handcuff on top.

A juvenile suspected of being either the shooter or an accomplice in a 2016 murder may be tried in adult court.

A juvenile suspected of being either the shooter or an accomplice in a 2016 murder may be tried in adult court for felony murder, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Tenth District Court of Appeals, finding that Damon L. Taylor could be tried in adult court for a charge that was not brought in juvenile court.

Announcing the judgment of the Court, Justice Melody Stewart explained that the Tenth District, at the time of its decision, did not have the benefit of one of the Supreme Court’s 2022 decisions on juvenile bindovers. The court of appeals applied State v. Smith, which held that only the charges for which a juvenile court finds probable cause that the minor committed can be transferred to adult court. However, the Tenth District did not have the opportunity to apply State v. Burns because it was released after the Tenth District’s decision. In Burns, the Court clarified the charges in adult court do not have to be identical to the juvenile charges if the adult court charges are “rooted in the acts that were the subject” of the juvenile charges.

In today’s ruling, the lead opinion held that the felony murder charge Taylor faced for the death of Enrique Straughter was rooted in the same acts as the complicity-to-commit murder charge that was transferred from juvenile court to adult court.

The Court also found the Tenth District incorrectly determined that Taylor’s constitutional rights were violated when police interviewed him about eight months after the crime when Taylor was an adult and did not request his attorney. The Supreme Court found Taylor voluntarily waived his rights when he spoke with police without an attorney present.

Justice Michael P. Donnelly joined Justice Stewart’s opinion. Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Forbes, sitting for Justice Jennifer Brunner, also joined the opinion.

In an opinion concurring in part and concurring in judgment only in part, Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy disagreed with the lead opinion’s legal reasoning but reached the same conclusion that Taylor was correctly bound over to adult court to face the murder charges returned by a grand jury. Chief Justice Kennedy wrote that state law at the time of Taylor’s bindover authorized the transfer without any need to determine whether the adult charge was “rooted in” the juvenile charge.

Justices R. Patrick DeWine and Joseph T. Deters joined the chief justice’s opinion.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Patrick F. Fischer stated that he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s 2022 decisions in Smith and Burns. However, he noted that state law has been amended to mirror those 2022 decisions and that the “most prudent approach is to let Smith and Burns stand.”

Teen Implicated in Shooting Death
In April 2016, Straughter was shot and killed in a Reynoldsburg apartment complex. Officers found a piece of a Smith & Wesson pistol, live rounds, shell casings, and a key fob that unlocked a nearby Chevrolet Malibu. That night, Taylor’s mother called the police to report her Malibu had been stolen and that she believed her son had taken it. She also told police that a Smith & Wesson pistol belonging to her boyfriend was in the car.

Police found Taylor, who at the time was days away from turning 18 years old, and took him into custody to question him about the stolen car and the death of Straughter. Taylor was read his Miranda rights, and he invoked his right to an attorney. Despite requesting a lawyer, a detective continued to question Taylor, collected a DNA sample, and tested him for gunshot residue.

DNA testing connected Taylor to the portion of the pistol discovered at the scene. In December 2016, eight months after the murder, police arrested Taylor and interrogated him at the police station.

The detective who interviewed Taylor was aware he was represented by an attorney. Without the attorney present, Taylor agreed to waive his Miranda rights and answered questions. He gave conflicting accounts of what happened and eventually claimed another person, Damion Wade, shot Straughter. Hours after the interview, the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint in juvenile court charging Taylor with Straughter’s murder.

Prosecutor Seeks to Transfer Case to Adult Court
Because of Taylor’s age and the nature of the crime, the prosecutor sought to bind Taylor over to be prosecuted as an adult. The juvenile court conducted a hearing and found probable cause that Taylor committed the offense of complicity to murder and transferred the case to adult court.

Once transferred, Taylor was indicted on three murder counts: aggravated murder, murder, and felony murder based on committing felonious assault. Each count carried a firearm specification. The adult court suppressed Taylor’s DNA sample and all statements he made to police during the April 2016 interview after he asked for an attorney. The court admitted the statements Taylor made to police at his second December 2016 interview.

Taylor was acquitted of aggravated murder and murder. He was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 18 years to life in prison. Taylor appealed his conviction to the Tenth District.

The Tenth District reversed the trial court’s decision. It found Taylor’s rights under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution were violated when he was questioned without an attorney present when he asked for an attorney in April 2016 and the officers knew he was represented at the time of the December 2016 interrogation. The appeals court also found that the offense of complicity to murder was not equivalent to felony murder, so the adult court did not have the authority to consider that charge.

The prosecutor appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Examined Bindover Law
Justice Stewart explained the Tenth District’s decision about Taylor was issued after the Supreme Court’s Smith decision but before Burns. In those cases, the Court examined the version of R.C. 2151.23(H) that was in effect at the time of Taylor’s indictment. The opinion noted the General Assembly amended R.C. 2151.23(H) to adopt the Smith decision, which was clarified in Burns.

Smith stated when a juvenile court finds no probable cause that a minor committed an act charged by the prosecutor, an adult court has no jurisdiction to consider the charge. In Burns, the Court answered a related question and found that once a juvenile case is transferred, the adult court can bring new charges as long as they are rooted in the acts that were the subject of the juvenile complaint.

Justice Stewart held in Taylor’s case that the felony murder charge was rooted in the same acts and events as the complicity-to-commit murder charge, namely the fatal shooting of Straughter.

Supreme Court Rejected Constitutional Rights Claim
Justice Stewart noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney takes effect once a criminal prosecution commences. Taylor was taken into custody and questioned during the day in December 2016. It was not until the evening, after his interrogation ended, that the prosecutor filed a juvenile complaint against Taylor. The Court ruled Taylor’s criminal prosecution had not commenced at the time of his questioning, so he was not entitled to have an attorney at that time.

The Court also noted that Taylor waived his rights to have an attorney present when he agreed to speak with police. While an attorney represented Taylor, he was free to waive his right to speak with police without consulting with the lawyer, the Court concluded.

The Court remanded the case to the Tenth District for further proceedings.

Law Permitted Adult Court to Consider Murder Charge, Concurrence Maintained
Chief Justice Kennedy wrote that the Smith and Burns cases were wrongly decided and should be overturned. The concurrence stated that those cases “grafted new limits” on R.C. 2151.23(H) that did not exist at the time of Taylor’s bindover. The statute provided that when a case is transferred from juvenile court to adult court, the adult court had jurisdiction to convict the juvenile of the offenses that were the basis for the transfer or “for the commission of another offense that is different from the offense charged.”

“In this case, the state charged Taylor with murder in the juvenile court, and the adult court had jurisdiction to convict him of felony murder even though the offense was not specifically charged in the juvenile complaint,” the concurrence stated.

Under the law in effect at the time, the fact that the juvenile court did not allege Taylor committed felony murder was of “no import, because former R.C. 2151.23(H) permitted the adult court to convict him of offenses that were different from those specifically charged in the complaint,” the concurrence concluded.

2022-1069. State v. Taylor, Slip Opinion No. 2024-Ohio-1752.

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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.

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