Should A DUI / OVI As A Juvenile Enhance A Later DUI / OVI As An Adult?

In Ohio DUI / OVI cases, mandatory minimum penalties are increased based on prior OVI convictions.  One issue faced by Ohio courts is whether a person’s OVI adjudication (‘conviction’) as a juvenile can be used to enhance a subsequent OVI sentence as an adult.  The Ohio Supreme Court recently issued an opinion which settles the issue.

Juvenile arrested

The case of State v. Hand did not involve an OVI, but the decision will apply to OVI convictions.  Hand was convicted of Aggravated Burglary, Aggravated Robbery, Kidnapping and Felonious Assault.  Those offenses are categorized as first degree felonies and second degree felonies.  Ohio Revised Code section 2929.13(F)(6) says the judge must impose a mandatory prison term for first and second degree felonies if the defendant has a prior conviction for a first or second degree felony.  Ohio Revised Code section 2901.08(A) says a juvenile adjudication for a criminal offense or traffic offense is a ‘conviction’ for purposes of determining the sentence in a later conviction.  Relying on those two Ohio Revised Code sections, the judge imposed a mandatory prison term.

Hand appealed the judge’s sentence, and the case was ultimately heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.  The Court noted the juvenile justice system is different than the adult criminal justice system.  Juvenile case dispositions are intended to be “civil and rehabilitative”, while adult sentencing is “criminal and punitive”.  The court also noted that, while juveniles are afforded most of the same Constitutional rights as adults, there is one right not required in juvenile court proceedings:  trial by jury.

The interplay between the right to a jury trial and sentence enhancement was addressed by the United States Supreme Court in two cases before the Hand case.  In those cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held any facts increasing a maximum sentence or minimum mandatory sentence must be submitted to a jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.  One exception to this rule is prior convictions:  prior convictions may be used to enhance sentences without being submitted to a jury.

This exception for prior convictions was analyzed by the Ohio Supreme Court in the Hand case.  According to that analysis, prior convictions may be used to enhance a sentence because the prior conviction resulted from a proceeding in which the defendant had the right to a jury trial.  But a person’s prior adjudication as a juvenile did not involve the right to a jury trial.  Therefore, that adjudication for a juvenile offense cannot serve as a ‘prior conviction’ to enhance a minimum sentence or maximum sentence.  As a result of this analysis, the Ohio Supreme Court held Revised Code section 2901.08(A) is unconstitutional.

The Hand decision can have a significant impact in an OVI case where the defendant has a prior OVI as a juvenile.  For example, suppose a defendant with an OVI as a juvenile is charged with a second OVI within six years and refuses a breath test.  If the juvenile OVI is counted as a prior conviction, the minimum jail sentence is 20 days.  If the juvenile OVI is not counted as a prior conviction, the minimum jail sentence is three days and can be served in a Driver Intervention Program at a hotel.

It should be kept in mind that a juvenile OVI adjudication may still affect a defendant’s sentence in a subsequent OVI.  Although the juvenile OVI cannot enhance the minimum mandatory sentence, the judge can still consider the juvenile OVI in determining the appropriate sentence.  There is a wide range of possible sentences.  In a first offense, for example, the jail sentence can be as little as three days or as much as 180 days.  A quick summary of OVI sentencing can be seen in this OVI sentencing table.

I agree with the Court’s decision and rationale in Hand.  It seems fundamentally unfair to use a juvenile adjudication for subsequent sentence enhancement.  I commend the defense attorney who appealed Hand’s sentence.  The attorney demonstrated skilled lawyering to help the Ohio Supreme Court recognize and correct this fundamental unfairness.