Oral Argument Preview: Can an Amenability Hearing in A Juvenile Case be Waived? State v. Warner.

On October 4, 2012 the Supreme Court of Ohio handed down a merit decision in this case. Read the analysis here

Read the analysis of the oral argument here.

On June 5, 2012 the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the case of State v. Warner, 2011-1677. The issue in this case is whether an amenability hearing in a juvenile case may be waived, and if so, whether a waiver of such a hearing is invalid unless the waiver is expressly stated on the record and made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.

R.C. 2152.12 governs transfer of cases out of juvenile court. If a child is charged with committing an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult, the juvenile court may transfer the case if it finds that the child was fourteen years or older at the time of the act, that there is probable cause to believe that the child committed the act, and that “the child is not amenable to care or rehabilitation within the juvenile system,” and whether the safety of the community requires the imposition of adult sanctions. The juvenile court must hold a hearing and balance a number of factors provided in R.C. 2152.12(D) and (E) to determine whether a transfer is appropriate.

Derek Warner was arrested and charged in connection with a November 2009 burglary in Cleveland. Warner was seventeen years old at the time of the incident. The juvenile court determined that he was not amenable to care and rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system, having been found not amenable in a prior case in which he was bound over, and therefore the juvenile court bound him over to common pleas court to be tried as an adult. Warner was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison.

On appeal, Warner argued that the juvenile court wrongly bound him over without holding an amenability hearing first. The Eighth District Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that Warner had waived the amenability hearing through his counsel.

Warner appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio. He argues that the statutory language governing amenability hearings and the express language of Juv. Rule 30 indicate that the hearing is mandatory and a prerequisite to the transfer of a juvenile case. Furthermore, the statute lacks any indication that the juvenile defendant can waive the amenability hearing, even though the same statute expressly permits the juvenile to waive a mental examination. Warner argues that the policy rationales behind the juvenile justice system—rehabilitation, balancing of social interests, and a parens patriae role—prohibit waiver of the amenability hearing, as there may be situations where rehabilitation as a juvenile is appropriate even if the juvenile is willing to stand trial in adult court. Warner also argues that even if the statute allows for waiver of the amenability hearing, the waiver must be explicit, and the Court must find such waiver was knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently made. The juvenile court is required to state on the record the factors it considered in determining amenability, and cannot base its decision on a finding in a previous case that the juvenile was not amenable.

In response, the State of Ohio argues that the amenability statute must be read together with Juv.R. 3, which allows any right except the right to counsel to be waived with the court’s permission. The state also argues that Juv. Rule 3 and Juv. Rule 30 are not in conflict, but if the Court finds that they are, they can be harmonized so as to give effect to both. While Juv. R. 30 and R.C. 2152.12 require an amenability hearing, Juv. R. 3 allows a juvenile to waive that hearing with the court’s permission. Further, the State argues that allowing waiver is necessary for the sake of efficiency. It notes that Warner had been found not amenable in a separate case heard 41 days prior to this case; the judge, prosecutor and defense counsel were the same in both proceedings and were well aware of the reasons that Warner had been previously found not amenable. Finally, the State argues that precedent does not support the requirement of a specific colloquy before a finding of waiver, Warner’s attorney was given an opportunity to discuss the issue in a sidebar discussion and failed to object to the court’s finding of waiver, and that the record in this case demonstrates there was an implied waiver

The Ohio Public Defender has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Warner. The OPD argues that because the juvenile court judge is statutorily required to weigh certain factors set forth in the statute before deciding to transfer the case, the decision requires individualized determinations that militate against permitting the child to waive the hearing. It also argues that transfer involves a juvenile court’s determination of its own jurisdiction and does not involve a “right” that the child can waive.

Student Contributor: Greg Kendall