Q: At what age can a child be tried as an adult in Ohio and what is the process?
A: A child, defined as a person under age 18, can be tried as an adult only if the child was age 14 or older at the time of the offense. Nearly all such cases begin in juvenile court with a felony charge. The court must conduct hearings and make certain determinations before the child can be transferred to another court for trial. The process is sometimes referred to as bindover, transfer, waiver, or relinquishment proceedings. In some cases, the child must be tried as an adult. In others, the child can be tried as an adult only if the court orders it.
Q: When is trial as an adult required?
A: Trial as an adult is mandatory in certain very serious cases: (1) when the charge is aggravated murder or murder, and the child is 16 or 17, or the child is 14 or 15 and has been committed to an Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility; and (2) when the charge is a certain serious felony offense, and the child is age 16 or 17 and either has previously been committed to a DYS facility or used a firearm while committing the offense. If the court finds that these conditions exist and that there is probable cause to believe that the child committed the offense, the child must stand trial as an adult. There are also other limited circumstances in which the child must stand trial as an adult.
Q: When can a court decide whether or not to try a child as an adult?
A: When the law does not require transfer, the court has a choice whether to try a child as an adult, but may do so only if the child was 14 years or older at the time of a felony offense. First, the court conducts a hearing to determine if there is probable cause that the child committed the offense. Next, the court orders an investigation, including a mental examination, and conducts another hearing, often called an “amenability” hearing, to decide whether or not the child is likely to be rehabilitated within the juvenile system, and whether or not the community’s safety requires that the child be subject to adult penalties. Some of the factors the court considers are age, physical and mental maturity, past attempts and future potential for rehabilitation, harm suffered by the victim, use of a firearm, and public safety.
Q: What happens after a juvenile court orders the child to stand trial as an adult?
A: After the transfer is ordered, the court will set the terms of bail and, if the child is in detention, the child may be transferred to the appropriate officer or detention facility for adults provided certain conditions are met. The juvenile court’s authority over that case is then terminated. Once tried and if convicted, any sentence of incarceration is to an adult facility. Likewise, any probation is supervised by probation officers who supervise adult offenders. If the offense the child was ultimately convicted or pled guilty to in adult court would not have required a mandatory bindover or permitted a discretionary bindover, the adult court will transfer the case back to juvenile court for further consideration.
Q: Can other measures be taken when a youth commits a serious or violent offense?
A: If a child’s case remains in juvenile court, there are other alternatives. When there are multiple charges, the court may impose consecutive sentences in a secure DYS facility. If a firearm was used in the offense and specified in the complaint, the child must be committed to DYS and must serve additional time, ranging from one to five years, for using the firearm. Lastly, in certain circumstances, the court may impose a “serious youthful offender” (SYO) sentence in which a child is given a traditional juvenile sentence as well as an “adult” sentence that is “stayed” or delayed. The child may not have to serve the adult portion of the sentence at all if he or she successfully completes the juvenile portion of the sentence. If the child is older than age 14 and commits certain conduct or offenses while serving the juvenile portion of the SYO sentence (indicating that rehabilitation in the juvenile system is not likely), the child can be sentenced to an adult correctional facility or to adult probation.
This "Law You Can Use" legal information article was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by Matthew W. McFarland, a former magistrate for the Scioto County Probate Juvenile Court. It was updated by Thomas J. Freeman, a magistrate for the Summit County Juvenile Court in Akron.