November 01, 2016

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Based on Crimes Adjudicated as Juvenile Violates Due Process

Emily Peeler

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

State v. Hand, 2016 WL 4486068 (Ohio).

An Ohio state statute requiring a mandatory minimum sentence based on a felony adjudication as a juvenile violates state and federal due process requirements. Juveniles are not extended the due process right of a jury trial, therefore administering a mandatory minimum based on that offense does not meet constitutional due process requirements. 

As a juvenile, the appellant Hand was adjudicated for a first-degree felony. Later, as an adult, Hand entered no-contest pleas for three first-degree felonies and two second-degree felonies. He agreed to a six-year prison sentence for these offenses. Three of the six years were mandatory because of the type of felonies he committed as an adult. The other three of the six years were in dispute in this appeal. Ohio statute requires a mandatory sentence for first- or second-degree felony if the offender was previously convicted or pled guilty to a first- or second-degree felony. Hand argued the Ohio statute violated his due process rights because his previous first- or second-degree felony happened when he was a juvenile. 

The Ohio Supreme Court found treating a juvenile adjudication the same as an adult conviction when enhancing sentencing for a later crime violates due process. Ohio statute required mandatory minimums “if the offender previously was convicted of or pleaded guilty to” first- or second-degree felonies. R.C. 2929.13(F). The statute later explained that an adjudication as a delinquent child is a conviction. R.C. 2901.08(A). 

The court examined state and federal constitutional due process considerations. Juvenile courts are rehabilitative, versus felony sentencing which is punitive. Because the juvenile court is unique, some but not all due process rights extend to juvenile court. These include right to counsel, right to notice, privilege against self-incrimination, double jeopardy, and proof-beyond-a-reasonable doubt standard. The right to a jury trial is not extended to juvenile court, which the court found significant. 

Hand relied on Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), to argue his sentencing violated the due process clause. Under Apprendi, a court cannot increase the penalty for a crime unless the basis for the increase has been admitted to or decided by a jury. Therefore, the question in Hand’s case was whether the adjudication was presented to a jury, not whether the prior juvenile adjudication was reliable. The court emphasized again that juveniles lack a right to a jury trial because of the rehabilitative nature of the juvenile court. The current Ohio statute turning an adjudication into a conviction without a right to a jury therefore violated the Apprendi decision and due process. 

One judge dissented, asserting the plain language of the Ohio statute clearly allows a juvenile’s prior adjudication to be applied toward a mandatory minimum sentence. This dissent highlighted federal and other state court decisions holding a prior juvenile adjudication can be used to enhance a sentence even though there is no right to a jury trial in juvenile court.