Q: What is an “SYO” sentence and who is eligible?
A: An “SYO,” or “serious youthful offender” sentence combines a sentence typically given to a juvenile offender with a sentence typically given to an adult. A child’s eligibility for an SYO sentence depends on a variety of factors: age of the child; degree and type of offense; previous commitment to an Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility; and use of a firearm. An SYO sentence cannot be given to any child under 10 years of age.
Q: What is the role of the prosecutor in cases eligible for an SYO sentence?
A: The prosecutor must begin the process and can do so in several ways. In all cases, however, the child has the right to an indictment, which is a presentation of the evidence before a grand jury.
Q: How is the trial of an SYO case different from other juvenile cases?
A: The court first must conduct a preliminary hearing to determine if there is “probable cause” to believe that the child committed the offense and is eligible for, or must (by law) receive, an SYO sentence. Since an SYO sentence may result in a child being given the same criminal penalties as an adult, the juvenile also is entitled to “adult” rights, including bail, an open and speedy trial, and a trial by jury. The usual criminal procedure rules apply in a trial, except that a child may not give up the right to be represented by a lawyer.
Q: What happens after the court decides an offender is a delinquent child in an SYO case?
A: In certain very serious cases, Ohio law requires the court to order an SYO sentence. In others, the court may or may not issue the SYO sentence after considering the length of time, level of security, and types of programming available in the juvenile system. In either case, when the court issues an SYO sentence, the court issues the juvenile portion of the sentence along with the “adult” portion of the sentence just as if the juvenile were an adult, except that the court cannot order a sentence of death or life imprisonment without parole. The adult portion of the sentence is “stayed,” meaning that the child does not serve the adult sentence at that time. The "adult" sentence may not have to be served at all if the child successfully completes the juvenile portion of the sentence.
Q: What happens if the child is not successful in the juvenile portion of the sentence?
A: If, while serving the juvenile portion of the sentence, the child commits certain serious conduct or offenses that indicate the child cannot be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, the court can 'lift' the stay on the 'adult' sentence and order the child to serve the adult portion of the sentence after a hearing. For this to happen, the court also must find that the child is over the age of 14 and has previously been committed to a DYS facility. When the court finds all these conditions, the court can order the child to be transferred to an adult correctional facility or to adult probation and community controls. The child is given credit for time served in the juvenile system and the authority of the juvenile court is terminated for that and any future charge.
This "Law You Can Use" legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by Leah A. Dugan, executive director of human resources for the Hamilton County Juvenile Court in Cincinnati. It was updated by Thomas J. Freeman, a magistrate for the Summit County Juvenile Court in Akron.