The Ohio Supreme Court issued two major opinions today emphasizing the importance of holding people younger than 18 accountable in ways that account for their unique characteristics as children.
In the first opinion, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a sentence of 112 years in prison for a non-homicide offense is unconstitutional when imposed on a child. The ruling came in a case involving Brandon Moore, who was sentenced to a total of 112 years in prison for a non-homicide offense he committed at the age of 15. The decision follows a 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida, which found that life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for children who commit non-homicide offenses.
The Ohio Supreme Court said that even though it was not called “life without parole,” Brandon’s sentence is equivalent to the sentence and thus unconstitutional under Graham. The Ohio Supreme Court explained that the U.S. Supreme Court “in Graham was not barring a terminology-‘life without parole’-but rather a punishment that removes a juvenile from society without a meaningful chance to demonstrate rehabilitation and obtain release.”
As a result of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, Brandon will have a second chance at freedom, meaning he will have an opportunity for review, at which time his status as a child when the crime occurred must be considered. There is no guarantee he will be released.
Ohio joins a growing number of states, including California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, and Wyoming, in recognizing that lengthy sentences for children are tantamount to life without parole, because youth who receive them will die in prison with no chance of review.
Congratulations to Rachel Bloomekatz, principal at Gupta Wessler, for her zealous pro bono representation of Brandon Moore.
In the second significant opinion today, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the state’s mandatory transfer law for children transferred from juvenile to adult criminal court. Relying on the Ohio Constitution and the line of U.S. Supreme Court cases–Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama–that require youth be treated as a mitigating factor at sentencing, the Ohio Supreme Court said the mandatory transfer law’s “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.”
Adolescent development research documents that children are less able than adults to control their impulses, think through the long-term consequences of their actions or resist pressure from peers and adults. They also possess an unique capacity for change and development and typically grow out of their criminal behaviors by the time they reach adulthood.