Monday, May 29, 2017

Court reverses itself in State v. Aalim

Last week the Court granted a motion to reconsider its December 2016 decision in State v. Aalim, and reversed its prior holding.

In Aalim I, the Court had held unconstitutional, as violative of due process, the mandatory transfer from juvenile court to common pleas court of juveniles charged with certain crimes alleged to have been committed when the juvenile was at least 16 years old. Among other things, the Court held that juveniles were constitutionally entitled to "fundamental fairness," and that their "special status" as youths mandated that they receive "special consideration" in the criminal justice system. Because the mandatory-transfer statute precluded a judge from making individualized determinations of whether any particular juvenile who met the statutory requirements was amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system, the Court found that it was unconstitutional. This is the money quote, to my mind: "We now recognize that because children are constitutionally required to be treated differently from adults for purposes of sentencing, juvenile procedures themselves also must account for the differences in children versus adults." The Court further found that the discretionary-transfer procedure did satisfy due process, and so severed the mandatory-transfer portion of the statutes.

The 4-3 decision was authored by Justice Lanzinger and joined by Justice Pfeiffer, both of whom retired at the end of the last term. Sensing an opportunity for reversal, the State moved for reconsideration late last year.

And now the Court has granted the motion to reconsider. Writing for the four-justice majority, Justice Kennedy concluded that the Court's decision in Aalim I "usurped the General Assembly’s exclusive constitutional authority to define the jurisdiction of the courts of common pleas by impermissibly allowing a juvenile-division judge discretion to veto the legislature’s grant of jurisdiction to the general division of a court of common pleas over this limited class of juvenile offenders." The Court in Aalim II went on to determine that the statutory scheme also did not violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, in part because juveniles are not a suspect class.

Justice DeWine penned an interesting concurrence--on which more in a separate post. Justice Fischer would have denied the motion for reconsideration, but, feeling obligated to participate in the reconsideration once a majority of the Court had granted the motion, concurred in the Aalim II majority's decision. He explained his rationale for this approach in a concurrence in State v. Gonzales, which I discussed here. Chief Justice O'Connor and Justice O'Neill (the two remaining members of the Aalim I majority) dissented.

A couple of months ago I wrote that the Court had accepted at least one other case and held it for the decision in Aalim II. One would think that that case, State v. Belton, now would be primed for a summary reversal. I previously wrote that with Belton having been a First District case, it was possible that Justices Fischer or DeWine may not participate in its decision. But with today's Aalim II decision, it seems unlikely that the Court would impose a different rule in Belton than it imposed in Aalim II--even if the two most junior justices dod not participate.

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