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Can juvenile adjudications be used to enhance criminal sentences without proving the conduct to a jury?

The Supreme Court of Ohio recently answered that question “no.” State v. Hand, 2016 Ohio 5504, 2016 WL 4486068, 8/25/16. Hand rejects the majority position on this question, and instead adopts the position of the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Tighe, 266 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001), holding that the lack of a jury trial in juvenile proceedings under Ohio law means a juvenile adjudication isn’t a “prior conviction” that, under Appendi v.  New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), can be used to enhance a sentence without having the jury determine the existence of the prior conviction.

¶31    We do not agree with the view adopted by the majority of courts in other jurisdictions and find the reasoning in Tighe to be more persuasive. Under Apprendi, a fact cannot be used to increase the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum unless it is submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt or is admitted to by the defendant. Id., 530 U.S. at 490, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435. The one exception to that rule is that a prior conviction can be used to increase the penalty without being submitted to the jury. Id. But prior convictions are treated differently only because “unlike virtually any other consideration used to enlarge the possible penalty for an offense, * * * a prior conviction must itself have been established through procedures satisfying the fair notice, reasonable doubt, and jury trial guarantees.” Jones v. United States, 526 U.S. 227, 249, 119 S.Ct. 1215, 143 L.Ed.2d 311 (1999). Thus, at the heart of Apprendi’s narrow exception is the concept that the prior conviction was the result of a proceeding in which the defendant had the right to a jury trial and the right to require the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

¶32    The significant expansion of Apprendi’s prior-conviction exception to include juvenile adjudications is at odds with the United States Supreme Court’s unwavering commitment to a narrow definition of a prior conviction. The proper inquiry under Apprendi is not simply whether juvenile adjudications are deemed to be reliable, but whether the juveniles were afforded the right to a jury. See id. at 498–499 (Scalia, J., concurring).

¶33    The right to a jury trial “is no mere procedural formality, but a fundamental reservation of power in our constitutional structure.” Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 305–306, 124 S.Ct. 2531, 159 L.Ed.2d 403 (2004). “[T]he Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee a jury standing between a defendant and the power of the State, and they guarantee a jury’s finding of any disputed fact essential to increase the ceiling of a potential sentence.” Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13, 25, 125 S.Ct. 1254, 161 L.Ed.2d 205 (2005) (plurality opinion). That is, the jury-trial right is not primarily focused on the reliability of the jury’s conclusions drawn from the facts, but rather on preventing the state from drawing conclusions from the facts without using a jury.

¶34    Given the United States Supreme Court’s emphatic pronouncements on the importance of the right to a jury trial, it is logical to conclude that the court meant to limit the prior-conviction exception to prior proceedings that satisfied the jury-trial guarantee. Because a juvenile adjudication is not established through a procedure that provides the right to a jury trial, it cannot be used to increase a sentence beyond a statutory maximum or mandatory minimum.

(Slip op. at 14-15).

On Point has posted before about whether Appendi allows treating as a “prior conviction” an adjudication obtained in a proceeding that doesn’t afford the defendant a right to a jury trial and/or to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition to juvenile adjudications, of course, that issue arises in OWI prosecutions that use the civil first-offense adjudication to enhance later offenses. In the OWI cases Wisconsin courts have so far followed the majority approach, brushing aside any concerns about the lack of a jury or proof beyond a reasonable doubt. See here, here, here, here, and (especially) here (collecting cases from other jurisdictions). The Hand decision is a potent reminder that the federal and state courts are split on this question, and that what Appendi allows (or requires) is open to argument till the United State Supreme Court settles the question.

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