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Demystifying Ohio's Serious Youthful Offender Sentencing

In 2002, the Ohio legislature enacted the serious youthful offender or "SYO" sentencing law. Under the SYO sentencing law, juvenile offenders who are designated serious youthful offenders are not bound over to adult court. Rather, juvenile offenders designated serious youthful offenders are subject to blended sentences where both a juvenile disposition and an adult sentence are imposed.

To be designated as an SYO, one or more of the following factors must apply:

  1. The juvenile offender must be 10 years old or older;
  2. The act charged against the juvenile offender is an offense of violence;
  3. The juvenile offender used, displayed or brandished a firearm during the commission of the act charged;
  4. The juvenile offender was previously committed to a Department of Youth Service's facility.

If the juvenile offender qualifies as an SYO, the prosecuting attorney of the county in which the delinquent act occurred may initiate an SYO sentence. The prosecutor initiates the SYO sentence by obtaining an indictment, a bill of information, or by filing a complaint that includes a request for an SYO sentence.

Once the juvenile offender is indicted or charged, he or she is entitled to adult rights that include bail, an open and speedy trial, and a trial by jury in a juvenile court. At trial, the juvenile court must afford the juvenile offender all rights afforded an adult including the right to counsel and the right to raise the issue of competency.

If the juvenile offender is adjudicated delinquent for committing certain violent offenses that include aggravated murder, murder, or attempted murder, the juvenile court is required to impose an SYO sentence that includes a juvenile disposition and an adult sentence that is stayed pending the successful completion of the juvenile disposition

However, if the juvenile offender is adjudicated a delinquent offender for committing certain less violent offenses, the juvenile court is allowed, but not required, to impose an SYO sentence. Under these circumstances, the juvenile court has the discretion to impose either an SYO sentence or a traditional juvenile disposition.

When an SYO sentence is imposed , the adult portion of the SYO sentence can be invoked if the juvenile court fines by clear and convincing evidence that the juvenile offender:

  1. Is serving the juvenile portion of his SYO sentence;
  2. Is at least 14 years of age and has been admitted to a Department of Youth Services facility or has criminal charges pending, and;
  3. Has shown, by a rule violation at the institution that could be charged as a felony or a violent misdemeanor or through conduct that creates a substantial risk to the safety of the institution, community, or victim, that he or she is unlikely to be rehabilitated during the remaining period of the juvenile jurisdiction.

If the juvenile court makes the requisite findings and invokes the adult portion of the sentence, the juvenile offender will be required to serve that sentence in the Department of Corrections after his or her 21st birthday. 

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