In re D.S.
Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Ohio on behalf of 12-year-old D.S. Juvenile Law Center argued that Ohio's gross sexual imposition statute—designed in part to protect children who are under age 13 from adult sexual predators—is unconstitutional when enforced against an alleged perpetrator who is also under age 13, particularly when the alleged victim is a similarly-aged peer.
Citing years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Juvenile Law Center argued that the mitigating circumstances of youth, which diminish youth’s culpability, play an even more significant role in the context of punishing sexual conduct. Children’s immaturity, combined with their emerging sexual curiosity, can lead youth to engage in peer sexual conduct for which they are unprepared and for which they do not bear the same level of culpability as an adult. Additionally, Juvenile Law Center argued that Ohio’s statute offers no meaningful guidance for distinguishing between perpetrators and victims when two individuals are both under age 13, thus it punishes the very youth it was designed to protect.
Juvenile Law Center also supported the juvenile court’s discretionary decision to dismiss the complaint against D.S. The juvenile court found that “alternative methods [were] available to provide for the treatment needs of both children and to protect the community as a whole,” and that it was not “in the best interest of either child, given the facts of this case, to continue with the prosecution of this matter.” As Juvenile Law Center argued, when, as here, formal adjudication serves to punish rather than rehabilitate, the fundamental goals of the juvenile justice system and due process requirements are served most effectively by addressing youth’s needs without a delinquency adjudication.
The Ohio Supreme Court did not reach the constitutional question, but held that the juvenile court's order to dismiss was appropriate in the instant case because the "juvenile court must exercise its discretion in deciding the best course" and the "court's primary concern is not always to determine culpability for acts that would be crimes if committed by an adult," but to avoid full formal court proceedings where youth would be further injured by the court process.