Saturday, June 10, 2000

Ruling could spark appeals in dozens of juveniles' cases

Ohio court questions law for adult trials

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dozens of juveniles tried as adults and sent to prison in the last four years could have their cases reconsidered following an Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

        “We'll be giving this quick attention because essentially what we have are kids less than 18 years old, there's a way to get them into the juvenile system, we don't want to wait and dally,” said John Bay, chief of the legal division of the Ohio Public Defender's Office.

        In its Wednesday ruling, the court said prosecutors couldn't use part of a 1996 law aimed at cracking down on youth crime to try juveniles as adults just because they committed crimes in which an accomplice used a gun.

        In moving these juveniles' cases to adult court, prosecutors were using another Ohio law that allows them to charge accomplices with the same crime committed by the main perpetrator.

        A person who drives someone to a convenience store robbery, for example, can be charged with armed robbery even if he stays in the car.

        The juveniles still could be charged in juvenile court with the equivalent crime. They could also be tried as adults, but based only on other evidence, plus a determination that the juvenile system wasn't appropriate for them.

        The public defender's office will identify teens affected by the ruling and notify their lawyers, Mr. Bay said.

        State public defenders will work with the lawyers to get cases back into juvenile court, and will take appeals themselves when necessary, he said.

        The Supreme Court ruling involved Derrick Hanning, a 17-year-old Columbus boy tried as an adult because his adult accom plice carried a gun during a July 1997 robbery at a Friendly's restaurant.

        The 1996 law requires judges to automatically send juveniles who are 16 or 17 to adult court if they commit certain crimes — such as murder or robbery — while using a gun.

        Prosecutors said Derrick should be tried as an adult because his accomplice had a gun.

        Ron O'Brien, Franklin County prosecutor, said his office polled colleagues around the state before the ruling and estimated the decision would affect 75 to 100 juveniles serving adult prison sentences.

        “That's a pretty big number that need to go back for a second hearing,” Mr. O'Brien said.

        Cuyahoga County has prosecuted as many as two dozen such cases annually, said Blaise Thomas, who supervises Cuyahoga County's juvenile division.

        The department thinks the ruling will affect only cases under appeal, Mr. Thomas said.


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