Ohio Senator Cecil Thomas has introduced Senate Bill 64, which would eliminate the mandatory binding over of children from the juvenile court to be put on trial in the adult court. The ability to bindover, or transfer, children to the adult court would not be eliminated, only mandatory bindovers. Let me explain a little more about juvenile court, mandatory bindovers, recent Supreme Court activity, and provide some information on how you can help get this much needed, bipartisan, bill passed into law. If you already know all about this issue, please feel free to skip on down the article to Action Steps for Senate Bill 64. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me and ask. And please help spread the word!
Brief Background of Juvenile Courts
By way of a little background, lawmakers established the first Juvenile Court in Cuyahoga County in 1902 and they expanded statewide from there. From their inception, juveniles courts where given the authority to handle delinquency matters (a term used for criminal matters involving youth) committed by children under the age of 18. The rational for this was that children are developmentally and physically at a different stages of life than adults; and thus, should be treated differently than adults in the court system. The longstanding philosophy is that children should be given an opportunity for rehabilitation and to address matters that may be contributing to their misbehavior in an effort to avoid becoming lifelong criminals.
What Exactly Does “Mandatory Bindover” Mean?
Originally, juvenile courts had the ability to evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether a particular child accused of a delinquent act should be transferred, or bound over, to the adult court. The law included various procedural safeguards for children. For example, the juvenile judge had to conduct an amenability hearing, in which the judge would make a determination as to the rehabilitative potential of the youth after an investigation in the social history, education, family situation, and any other relevant factors regarding the child. This is still what Ohio law provides when a child is accused of a delinquent act in which the juvenile judge has the discretion to transfer or bindover the case to the adult court system (O.R.C. 2152.12)
However, a law was passed in Ohio in 1986, which provides that when a child, 16 years or older, is accused of certain types of serious offenses then the case must be transferred from the authority of the juvenile court to an adult court (O.R.C. 2152.12). This is what the legal term mandatory binderover means. The child subject to mandatory bindover is then put on trial as an adult and subject to adult criminal penalties and placement in the adult prison system.
This mandatory transferring is highly controversial given the very serious impact it has on the life of a young person. Here is the problem with mandatory bindovers: This transfer or bindover to the adult court happens when a child is accused of a serious offense. Only “probable cause” that a kid committed the serious offense needs to be found by the juvenile judge before the transfer must happen (O.R.C. 2152.10(A)(2)(b)). This extremely low standard is almost always is met. Thus, if a child is accused of a serious offense, he or she is basically automatically transferred to the adult system, with no amenability hearing or other procedural safeguards. As anyone who works with or has children knows, kids do stupid things. Sometimes they make really bad decisions. The juvenile court should have the discretion to determine on an individual basis whether a child should be transferred over and tried as an adult. If your child was accused of a serious crime, what would you want?
In my opinion and most other youth advocates I know, the mandatory bindover provision is just bad law that was passed amidst the wave of pro-punishment laws in the late 1980s, and it needs to be corrected. The argument is not whether bindovers should occur in certain circumstances, but whether such transfers should be automatic without allowing our elected juvenile judges to look at the particular situation on a case-by-case basis.
Ohio Supreme Court Developments
Last December 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court decided in State v. Aalim (“Aalim I”), that the mandatory bindover of the Aalim, a juvenile accused of a serious offense, violated his constitutional due process rights (State v. Aalim, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-8272), Unfortunately, just recently (May 2017) the Ohio Supreme Court (now with two new new judges on the Court) reversed its decision in State v. Aalim (“Aalim II’”) (State v. Aalim, Slip Opinion No. 2017-Ohio-2956) in a split decision. So, once again, Ohio law requires mandatory bindovers.
The matter will no doubt go to the United State Supreme Court for consideration. However, we need not wait on the Supreme Court to rid our juvenile justice system of this bad law. Thankfully, we do have other ways to make laws in this country. Our elected officials can pass new law, and that is exactly what is happening!
Action Steps for Senate Bill 64
Senator Thomas introduced Senate Bill 64, which would eliminate mandatory bindovers of youth –not bindovers generally, just the mandatory aspect. Great, now what?
We push for a public hearing. Let me explain how the process works. Once a bill is introduced in the Ohio Senate, it goes to one of many legislative committees. In this case, it has gone to the Judiciary Committee (http://ohiosenate.gov/committee/judiciary). From there, the Chair of the Committee, Kevin Bacon, in cooperation with the President of the Ohio Senate, may (but is not required) call a public hearing on the bill. This bill has not yet had a public hearing as of the writing of this article. Obviously supporters want a public hearing since that is is the first step towards moving forward on a bill. Bills can be introduced and sit in committees for years without a public hearing. Thus at this point, it would be helpful if you took a minute to Call [(614) 466-8064] or Email Senator Bacon and indicate that you are in support of SB 64 and would very much like a public hearing to be held on it soon. That’s it for now, besides spreading the word.
More About Hearings & the Ohio Lawmaking Process
Allow me to explain more about senate hearings and what happens next in this process because it is confusing, and not readily found on any Ohio state website. At the first hearing, the Senator who proposes the bill will talk about it and its merits. Thus, Senator Thomas will present SB 64 in the first hearing. If enough public interest is generated for the bill, then a second hearing may be scheduled. At the second public hearing, the folks supporting the bill talk and present. At a third hearing, people who opposed the bill talk and present. More hearings can be called at the discretion of the committee.
You might be wondering, “How do I find out about these hearings?” It is not easy! The Judicial Committee typically meets on Tuesdays, so on Thursday or Friday of the proceeding week, they will post under “Schedule” at the bottom of their page (http://ohiosenate.gov/committee/judiciary#) the hearings are scheduled for the following week.
Okay, so that’s an overview of hearings, but what about a vote by the Senate on the law?
If the committee decides to move forward with law, the legal requirement is only to give the public 24 hours notice before a vote. Yikes! Yes, this is really how it works. Notice of that vote will be posted on the same page I provided above. If it passes in the Senate, then it will move over to the Ohio House of Representatives for a similar process.
This confusing process highlights why it is important to get involved early and let the appropriate elected officials know that you are supportive of a bill and spread the word or organize others to do the same.
I hope this information helps. Thank you for your time and hope you will support this important matter.