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Constitutionality considered of law banning adults with certain juvenile offenses

Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: February 28, 2018

The Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday heard an appeal from a Hamilton County man who was convicted for illegally possessing a gun. The basis for his indictment was a state law that prohibits a person from having a weapon if the person was found delinquent of a violent offense as a juvenile. He argued the law is unconstitutional because it equates criminal convictions in adult courts with adjudications in juvenile courts.

Teen Found Delinquent After Fist Fight

In 1994, 17-year-old Anthony Carnes was part of a fist fight in a mall. A juvenile court found him delinquent of an offense that would have been felonious assault if he were an adult.

Twenty years later, Carnes was charged with illegally possessing a gun, known in the law as “having weapons while under disability.” State law prohibits a person with a juvenile adjudication for a violent offense from acquiring, having, carrying, or using a firearm or dangerous ordnance. The trial court found Carnes guilty and imposed a 30-month prison sentence.

The 1st District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, and the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the case for review.

Juvenile Offenses Wrongly Treated as Criminal, Carnes Asserts

The goal of Ohio’s juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate rather than punish juvenile offenders. Juvenile courts have mandatory duties and discretionary powers to transfer minors accused of committing the most serious offenses to adult court. Carnes points out that his offense wasn’t serious enough to warrant a transfer and his case stayed in juvenile court.

In 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile adjudication may not be used to enhance the degree of, or the sentence for, a later criminal offense committed as an adult. The opinion stated that “a juvenile adjudication is not a conviction of a crime and should not be treated as one.” Based on this decision, Carnes argues it is unconstitutional to use his juvenile adjudication as an element of a crime alleged against him as an adult, especially one that results in the loss of liberty.

The Buckeye Firearms Association filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court supporting Carnes, as have the Juvenile Law Center and National Juvenile Defender Center in a joint brief.

Certain Offenses by Minors Justify Gun Restrictions as Adults, State Maintains

The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office notes that anyone convicted of illegally acquiring, having, carrying, or using a firearm or dangerous ordnance is guilty of a third-degree felony. It was the General Assembly’s decision to prohibit certain people from possessing firearms, including those who were found delinquent as minors of certain offenses, the prosecutor states. The prosecutor reasons that the Court’s 2016 ruling doesn’t apply to the weapons while under disability statute because adults with a juvenile record of a violent offense receive no greater punishment than anyone else for violating the law.

In an amicus brief, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office supports the Hamilton County prosecutor.

Oral Argument Details

The Court considered State v. Carnes along with two other cases in a one-day session Tuesday.

Case Previews Available

Along with the brief descriptions below, the Office of Public Information released in-depth previews of the central arguments in each case.

Also Before the Court

An injured worker contests the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s electronic payment program because the bank administering the debit card payment of benefits charges fees for certain transactions. The worker filed a class-action lawsuit in common pleas court on behalf of himself and other injured workers who may have paid improper fees. In Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation v. Cirino, the state contends the lawsuit must be filed in the Ohio Court of Claims because the bureau is a state agency.

A Columbus attorney is facing a six-month stayed suspension with conditions in Columbus Bar Association v. Keating because he failed to keep and maintain required financial records. Due to the firm’s flawed recordkeeping, a Cincinnati chiropractor wasn’t paid from settlement funds for treatment provided to firm clients after auto accidents. The firm also has an account holding $75,000 in unidentified funds. The bar association that filed the grievance notes that attorney conduct rules require lawyers to account for “every penny” and recommends that the attorney be required to turn over the money to the state to follow statutory procedures for unclaimed funds.