Juvenile Court Bindover: Should It Ever Be Mandatory?

During graduate school, I spent a year doing field work in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court’s diagnostic clinic. I frequently conducted portions of an examination that would become part of a youth’s record for his or her amenability hearing, a proceeding at which a determination is made as to whether a minor should be “bound over” to adult court, or is amenable to the rehabilitative aims of the juvenile court. The Ohio juvenile law statutes outline the guidelines for when such a hearing must be held. The amenability process is part of what is sometimes referred to as a discretionary bindover.

The statutes also define which charges of wrongdoing require that a minor be tried in adult criminal court – called a mandatory bindover. This week, Tuesday to be exact, the Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in State of Ohio v. Alexander Quarterman over whether such a category should exist. (Hattip to cleveland.com’s Robert Higgs for writing about the case here.)

The general argument for discretionary bindover echoes the tender years notion that undergirds much of juvenile law. This doctrine acknowledges the age of the alleged perpetrator at the time of the alleged infraction, and the idea that minors should, at all times, be treated as amenable to rehabilitation. Mandatory bindover, on the other hand, feeds into the idea that at a certain age and for certain alleged violations, no such discretion should be afforded the juvenile. This judgment embodies the criminal law tenets of deterrence, punishment and retribution.

This nearly 100 page friend of the court brief aka amicus curiae was submitted by numerous well-regarded organizations including the League of Women Voters, NAMI, the Children’s Law Center, Ohio PTA and many others. It provides an excellent review, albeit from their perspective, of the tensions between discretion and mandatory prescriptions when it comes to minors.

So, are there circumstances under which a person who was under 18 at the time he or she allegedly committed a violation of the Ohio criminal code, should be, by default, tried as an adult? Or should all such individuals undergo amenability procedures, regardless of the circumstances? What level of due process is owed to a young person in such a situation?

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