Ohio Supreme Court: Juvenile crimes can't be used to lengthen adult sentences

Posted at 6:55 PM, Aug 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-26 18:55:25-04

An Ohio Supreme Court ruling will change the way offenders with juvenile records can be charged in adult court. 

In a 4-3 decision Thursday, Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled that prior juvenile convictions cannot be used to add additional charges to an indictment or extend prison sentences for adults who reoffend later in life. 

“This is a very big deal,” said Case Western Reserve University Law School Senior Instructor Michael Benza. 

Benza said that the decision could affect individuals who are yet to be sentenced or could lead to appeals by offenders who had their sentences enhanced by juvenile convictions. 

“The idea is yes, you do get a clean slate so when you become an adult that second crime is treated as your first crime,” Benza said. 

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, writing for the majority, said treating juvenile cases as prior convictions is unfair.

“Their brains are still developing,” Benza explained. “They don’t think the way adults do, they don’t process information the same way. We really are recognizing we have to treat them differently.” 

From his experience, former Cuyahoga County Judge Ken Callahan agreed. 

“Juveniles as children have not quite the brain capacity to form criminal intent,” Callahan said. 

While he understands concerns from victims and their families, he said the Ohio Supreme Court’s was "proper" in drawing the line between juvenile and adult convictions. 

“I think that children should be treated differently than adults and I think this decision keeps that distinction in tact,” he said.  

Callahan said an appeal is possible, which could ultimately bring this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.