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Constitutionality of adult offenses based on juvenile actions challenged

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a "community conversation" event at the Kermit Fire & Rescue Headquarters Station, Friday, May 10, 2019, in Kermit, W.Va. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

KATHLEEN MALONEY
Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: August 5, 2019

A man convicted when he was 19 years old for failing to register certain information with authorities disputes the constitutionality of the requirement because it was based on a juvenile offense.

In 2011, Robert Buttery was found delinquent in the Hamilton County Juvenile Court for two counts of what would be gross sexual imposition if committed by an adult. He was 14 at the time of the offenses. The court designated him as a sex offender, which under state law required him to register with authorities annually for 10 years.

Five years later, the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court found Buttery violated his registration duty and sentenced him to three years of community control.

The 1st District Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling. Buttery appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which will consider his case at oral arguments next week.

Registration Mandates Infringe on Due Process for Juveniles, Buttery Argues

Buttery stresses that the primary focus of juvenile courts is rehabilitation rather than punishment. This goal, and the confidentiality of juvenile proceedings, are thwarted when a juvenile adjudication for a sexually oriented offense becomes the basis for a public conviction as an adult, he maintains. The crime – failing to register – is based on actions committed as a juvenile, and without that conduct committed when a youth, a juvenile would have no duty to register, he states.

Noting that juvenile courts are civil, not criminal, courts, he also argues that it is fundamentally unfair to use a juvenile adjudication as the element that forms the basis for an adult crime. Adults have the benefit of a trial by jury, but juveniles have no right to a jury’s consideration of their cases, he points out. When a juvenile offense becomes an element of an adult crime without ever being submitted to a jury, a juvenile’s constitutional right to due process is violated, Buttery argues.

He concludes that a juvenile with an offense in a juvenile court should be able to move into adulthood “without the baggage of youthful mistakes.”

The Ohio Public Defender’s Office and the Children’s Law Center filed a joint amicus brief in support of Buttery’s arguments.

Requirements Are Discretionary and Fair, Prosecutor Maintains

The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office counters that a juvenile court’s classification of minors as sex offenders is discretionary and can be reconsidered for various reasons. Given that discretion, the registration requirements for juvenile sex offenders are fundamentally fair and don’t violate a juvenile’s due process rights, the prosecutor maintains.

The office also argues that the legislature has the authority to pass laws to protect the public, such as sex-offender registration requirements for juvenile offenders. And, the prosecutor states, it is appropriate for some juvenile offenses to carry consequences that follow into adulthood.

Oral Argument Details

The Supreme Court will consider State v. Buttery and three other appeals on Tuesday, Aug. 6. The Court’s Office of Public Information released previews of each case. Oral arguments begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live and archived on The Ohio Channel.

Tuesday, Aug. 6

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