On December 22, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory transfer of juveniles to common pleas courts (i.e. adult criminal courts) violates juveniles’ right to due process as guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution. State v. Aalim. Matthew Aalim was represented by NJDC Consultant Amanda Powell, with amicus support from NJDC, Juvenile Law Center, and many others.
Building on U.S. Supreme Court precedent
The Court cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions – Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama – which, over the past decade, have enshrined the principle that children are constitutionally required to be treated differently from adults for purposes of sentencing.
The Court wrote: “The mandatory-transfer statutes preclude a juvenile court judge from taking any individual circumstances into account before automatically sending a child who is 16 or older to adult court. This one-size-fits-all approach runs counter to the aims and goals of the juvenile system, and even those who would be amenable to the juvenile system are sent to adult court. Juvenile court judges must be allowed the discretion that the General Assembly permits for other children. They should be able to distinguish between those children who should be treated as adults and those who should not.
“Their age should not be treated as the sole decisive factor in determining whether they are transferred for criminal prosecution.” All children, regardless of age, “must have individual consideration at amenability hearings before being transferred from the protections of juvenile court to adult court.”
Impact in other states
Aalim was based on the Ohio Constitution, but also on U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the well-established differences between adults and children and the special protections afforded children under state and federal law. The decision can and should be used to attack mandatory transfer statutes or direct file practices in other states.
The decision is about the process due to ensure fundamental fairness for children in juvenile court as much as it is about transfer. It sets a standard for advocacy in juvenile court amenability proceedings and, citing Gault, Kent, Schall, and others, as well as Roper, Graham, and Miller, it serves as a roadmap for defenders challenging transfer in their jurisdictions.
Contact NJDC for assistance
If you would like help setting up or preserving this issue in your jurisdiction, amicus support, or training, contact NJDC at inquiries@NJDC.info or NJDC Consultant Amanda Powell at firstname.lastname@example.org.