On November 4, 2019, the Fifth District Court of Appeal made a ruling in In re M.W., 2019-Ohio-4564, which involved a juvenile court’s classification of a minor as a Tier II sex offender/child victim offender. The Court decided that when a juvenile court is determining which tier to place a minor in, it must explain the classification decision with sufficient detail to allow for a meaningful appellate review.
Background of the Case
The facts that led to the appeal involved a 17-year-old boy who, at the time of the offense, was dating a 15-year-old girl. On one occasion, the girl performed oral sex on the boy, which he recorded on his phone. He shared the video with some classmates.
When school officials learned of the video, they conducted an investigation. The boy handed his phone to a classmate and asked them to delete the video. However, they did not, and a school administrator recovered it.
The boy was alleged to be a delinquent child on the following charges:
- Pandering sexually-oriented material involving a minor,
- Disseminating matter harmful to a juvenile, and
- Attempting to tamper with evidence
The boy was adjudicated delinquent on all three counts, and the court ordered him to a 2-year term in the Department of Youth Services. The court also classified him as a Tier II juvenile sex offender. According to R.C. 2950.07, if a minor is considered a Tier II sex offender, they must register as such for 20 years.
Appealing the Juvenile Court’s Judgment
On an initial appeal, the boy argued, among other things, that the Tier II classification was an abuse of discretion. The Fifth District Court sent the case back to the juvenile court for another dispositional hearing.
The juvenile court conducted a second hearing and “reaffirm[ed] it’s prior classification of appellant as a Tier II juvenile offender registrant…” The boy appealed this decision, stating that the juvenile court should have classified him as a Tier I registrant as opposed to Tier II, and its current classification of him was an abuse of discretion.
Under R.C. 2152.83(D), if a judge decides that a juvenile should be classified as a sex offender, they may consider relevant factors, which include, but are not limited to:
- The nature of the offense
- Whether or not the child showed remorse for their actions
- Whether the minor may pose a risk to public interest and safety
The boy argued that the juvenile court judge did not give reasons for classifying him as a Tier II sex offender, and the only person who made such a recommendation was a probation officer.
The Fifth District Court’s Decision
The Fifth District Court of Appeals decided that the juvenile court did not provide factual findings as to why it placed the minor in Tier II. It stated that as the record for the initial disposition proceedings stands, there is not enough information to determine that the juvenile court considered all factors when making its classification decision. The court of appeals unanimously reversed and remanded “for consideration of the statutory factors sufficient to permit us to review the classification for an abuse of discretion.”
Impacts of the Ruling
If a child was charged with a sexually oriented offense, the Fifth District Court of Appeals’ decision has a couple of practice considerations. First, if the judge did not justify with factual findings the extra 10 years of registration that Tier II carries with it (or life that Tier III carries), M.W. could be invoked on appeal. Second, the logical extension of M.W. is that a discretionary classification must also be explained with sufficient detail to allow for a meaningful appellate review.
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