Bunch v. Ohio
Juvenile Law Center has filed multiple federal briefs on behalf of Chaz Bunch, who received a sentence of 89 years for a non-homicide offense for which he was charged at age 16.
The trial court had determined that, at 16, Bunch was beyond rehabilitation and should never be permitted to leave prison, even though there was no physical evidence that he participated in the crimes. As a result, the court sentenced him to the maximum term of imprisonment allowable for each conviction—a total of 89 years, all without the possibility of parole; this means he will not be able to even request release until his 95th birthday. Our brief argued that this sentence is unconstitutional pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Graham v. Florida, which held that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life without parole without a meaningful and realistic opportunity to re-enter society prior to the expiration of their sentences for non-homicide offenses.
Juvenile Law Center filed the first brief in favor of Bunch’s petition for a certificate of appealability, urging the Sixth Circuit to review the sentence. After the certificate of appealability was granted, Juvenile Law Center submitted a subsequent brief addressing the merits of Mr. Bunch’s claims. In June 2012, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling that Bunch’s sentence was not unconstitutional.
On December 5, 2012, Juvenile Law Center and National Juvenile Defender Center filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in support of the petition for certiorari filed by Ohio public defender Stephen Hardwick and private attorney Lawrence Rosenberg, on behalf of Bunch. In addition to arguing that Bunch's sentence is unconstitutional pursuant to Graham, we argued that this sentence violates Miller v. Alabama, which emphasized the importance of sentencing based on a determination of individual factors, including consideration of each defendant’s upbringing and participation level in the offense.
Pursuant to both Miller and Graham, 89 years without the possibility of parole is not a constitutional sentencing option for juveniles because children are fundamentally different from adults and categorically less deserving of the harshest forms of punishments. Under Graham, juveniles who, like Bunch, did not kill or intend to kill must be guaranteed a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release"—even if that opportunity does not actually result in release. The Supreme Court denied Bunch’s petition for certiorari on April 23, 2013.
Subsequently, Bunch unsuccessfully filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied by both the Ohio Court of Appeal and Ohio Supreme Court. On June 18, 2014, Bunch filed a second petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.
On July 21, 2014, Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief supporting this petition. On October 6, 2014 the Supreme Court denied this petition.
In 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court held in State v. Moore, the case of Bunch’s alleged accomplice, that Graham prohibits the imposition of a term-of-years sentence that exceeds an individual’s life expectancy on a youth convicted of a nonhomicide offence. Pursuant to this decision, Mr. Bunch received a new sentence of 49 years in 2019.
In May 2021, Mr. Bunch filed an appeal in the Ohio Supreme Court challenging, among other issues, his automatic transfer to adult court under Ohio’s mandatory bindover scheme, which required the juvenile court judge to determine only whether there was probable cause to support the charges alleged before transfer.
Juvenile Law Center, along with National Juvenile Defender Center, Children’s Law Center, Inc., and other advocacy organizations, filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court in support of Mr. Bunch, arguing that Ohio’s mandatory bindover scheme violates due process and contravenes U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence requiring consideration of the individualized characteristics of youth. Our brief further argued that Ohio’s statutory attempts to reduce the use of mandatory bindover have failed. Finally, we argued that Black youth are disproportionately bound over under this scheme, exacerbating racial disparities within the criminal legal system.
In December 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on whether Mr. Bunch’s trial counsel had been ineffective, but found that Mr. Bunch’s appeal “is not a suitable vehicle for reviewing procedures related to juvenile amenability” and declined to address arguments on that issue.