State v. Aalim

Matthew Aalim was 16 when he was charged with a robbery. Under Ohio’s mandatory transfer scheme, Matthew was transferred to adult court where he pleaded no contest and was convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to concurrent four-year prison terms. Matthew will be released at the age of 20—within the time the juvenile court would have had jurisdiction over him had his case been eligible to be retained by the juvenile court.

Juvenile Law Center, along with National Juvenile Defender Center, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Ohio arguing that Ohio’s mandatory bindover (transfer) statues are unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they do not allow for individualized determinations as to whether a youth should be tried in adult criminal court versus juvenile court.

The brief underscored that individualized transfer proceedings are constitutionally required in light of the due process protections guaranteed by Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), recent U.S. Supreme Court recent case law in Miller v. Alabama, Graham v. Florida, Roper v. Simmons, J.D.B. v. North Carolina, and Montgomery v. Louisiana directing courts to consider the distinct characteristics and vulnerabilities of youth, and the fact that transfer to adult court places youth and society at risk of devastating consequences.

On December 22, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court held that “the mandatory transfer of juveniles to [adult] court violates juveniles’ right to due process as guaranteed by Article I, Section 16 of the Ohio Constitution.” The Court found that juvenile court judges “are in the best position to evaluate each juvenile’s suitability for juvenile or adult court,” that youthful offenders must “have the opportunity to demonstrate a capacity to change,” and that “an amenability hearing is accordingly necessary before juveniles are transferred.” The Court held that 16- and 17-year-olds “fall under the definition of 'child'” and “age should not be treated as the sole decisive factor” in determining transfer to adult criminal court. The Court held that “the right to due process under the Ohio Constitution requires that all children have the right to an amenability hearing before transfer to adult court and that the mandatory transfer statutes violate the right to due process as guaranteed by Article I, Section 16 of the Ohio Constitution.”

The State of Ohio filed a motion for reconsideration in the Ohio Supreme Court. The Court granted the motion and vacated its decision in Aalim I, concluding that Ohio’s mandatory bindover statute complies with due process and equal protection because the legislature has exclusive constitutional authority to define the jurisdiction of the courts under the Ohio Constitution. In his dissenting opinion Chief Justice O’Connor writes, “The majority’s holding does not bring justice for Ohio’s children, who are among our weakest citizens,” and “the suggestion that this court is not authorized to invalidate a transfer statute that does not pass constitutional muster offends the doctrines of separation of powers and checks and balances, both hallmarks of our republic. . . . The majority’s decision ignores that juveniles are entitled to a liberty interest that cannot be arbitrarily deprived.”