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Juvenile FAQ

Criminal LawJuvenile / Juvenile FAQ

OHIO’S SOCIAL HOST LAW (PARENTS SERVING MINORS)

Q: What does Ohio law say about serving alcohol to minors? Are there any penalties?

A: With a few exceptions, no person can sell or furnish alcohol to an underage person in Ohio. Doing so is a first degree misdemeanor, which may result in up to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Q: What exceptions apply to serving alcohol to underage persons?

A: A parent or legal guardian can legally serve alcohol to his or her own underage children, and it is not illegal for a person to serve alcohol to someone else’s underage children, on the condition that the parent or guardian is there to supervise. Also, it is not illegal for underage persons to consume alcohol for a religious purpose, or to receive alcohol from a physician “in the regular line of the physician’s practice.”

Q: Can parents be held criminally liable for serving alcohol to underage persons in their own home?

A: Yes. Under Ohio’s “Social Host Law” (O.R.C. 4301.69(B)), “…no person who is the owner or occupant of any public or private place shall knowingly allow any underage person to remain in or on the premises while possessing or consuming beer or intoxicating liquor” unless the alcohol is provided to that underage person by a parent (or by someone else as long as that underage person’s parent is present).

Q: Might this law change in the future?

A: There is a current movement by the “Coalition to Amend Ohio’s Social Host Law” to change Ohio law so that parents and guardians will have increased responsibility for underage drinking. Citing statistics that teen drinking has increased dramatically since 1998, the coalition says that “house parties” are growing in popularity as a source for teens to obtain alcohol and binge drink. Right now, the law says that parents and guardians cannot “knowingly allow” their underage children to drink except under the circumstances mentioned above.

Some local communities have already amended their ordinances to reduce the Social Host Law standard. For example, parents and guardians in Dublin and Grove City, Ohio now face first degree misdemeanor penalties if they “negligently allow” underage children to drink; this means that they can’t simply say they “didn’t know” about underage drinking, and they are responsible if they “fail to perceive or avoid a risk of” teen drinking. Under these amended ordinances, an adult could not claim ignorance if a house party were to be raided by police. Also, in theory, parents may be prosecuted if they go out to dinner or out of town when they “know or should know” that their children might have a house party where alcohol would be furnished to underage children.

Q: What about parents who say they tried, but failed, to keep their underage children from drinking? Under the amended ordinances, is there a way for parents to defend themselves if charged under the Social Host Law?

A: Yes. Under the amended ordinances in Dublin and Grove City, for example, parents can present what is called an “affirmative defense” that they took “reasonable precautionary measures . . . to restrict or prevent access by underage persons to alcoholic beverages.”

PARENTS LIABILITY FOR CHILDREN’S ACTIONS

Q: Our 16-year-old daughter recently began driving. Since she is a minor, would we be found liable for any damage or injury she might cause while operating a car?

A: Parents will generally not be held liable for damages to person or property caused by their children’s operation of a motor vehicle. There are exceptions to this general rule, however. Ohio’s financial responsibility laws provide that the parent signing the child’s application for an operator’s license can be liable for damage or injury caused by the child’s operation of the family motor vehicle if that parent fails to provide the insurance required by state law.

Also, if the parent “negligently entrusts” the family motor vehicle to a child who is not fit to operate it (say, for instance, the child has had a problem with drinking and driving), the parent may be held liable for “negligently entrusting” the vehicle to the child. Owners will generally be responsible for damages or injuries caused by anyone to whom they negligently entrust their vehicle.

A parent might also be held liable for damage or injury caused by a minor child who is acting as the parent’s agent (for example, by doing an errand for the parent’s business). Again, this liability is not limited to the parent/child relationship, but to anyone acting as an agent for another person.

Q: We recently discovered that our 14-year-old son has been using marijuana, and we suspect he has brought it into the house. Can we be held responsible for his illegal activity?

A: Generally not, unless the parent knows or should have known, using reasonable diligence, that the child has the drug in the home. If a parent knowingly permits this behavior, consequences for the parent can be as drastic as criminal charges against the parent for possession of the drug under the laws of “constructive possession” (which apply when the child has possession of the drug in the house or other area under the legal control of the parent). In extreme cases (for example, when the child is selling or giving the drug to a friend while in the house), the parent could suffer a criminal forfeiture of the home.

Q: Our daughter is 21 years old, but lives with us right now while she gets her life together. Since she is an adult, can we be held responsible for any of her actions while she is living at home?

A: The age of majority in Ohio is 18, and parental responsibility generally ends at that age unless the child is mentally or physically handicapped or remains enrolled in high school. For the most part, once a child reaches the age of 21, the child is emancipated and parental responsibility and liability ends, although actions based upon “negligent entrustment” or other similar theories may apply regardless of the parent/child relationship.

Q: Can parents be found liable for failing to get medical or psychological treatment for a minor child? If so, what can happen to the parents?

A: Generally, parents have the right and responsibility to decide what kind of medical or mental health treatment their children receive. Parental decisions about medical care for everyday colds, bruises, and other minor afflictions will normally not be scrutinized by child welfare authorities. However, failing to obtain necessary medical or mental health treatment for a minor child that threatens the overall welfare of the child may result in a petition being filed in the juvenile court and a finding that the child is neglected or dependent. As a result of such a court finding, the parents may lose temporary or permanent custody of the child. In addition to the loss of custody, parents may also be subject to criminal prosecution for criminal medical neglect unless they can demonstrate that they intended to treat the child spiritually under the practice of a religious belief.

Q: Can I have my minor child declared emancipated by a court or can my child petition a court for such an order?

A: There is no statutory provision in Ohio to permit parents or a child to file a petition seeking an order to declare the child emancipated. Although some states have passed laws for this purpose, Ohio remains a “common law” state with regard to this issue. Past court cases have held that, except by reaching the age of majority, the only way for a child to become emancipated is by marriage or entry into the military service. Moreover, there is no action that may be filed to permit the child to legally move out of his or her home without a legal custodian and to relieve parents from parental responsibility or liability for the actions of the child.

“SYO” SENTENCES FOR JUVENILE WHO HAVE BEEN CHARGE WITH SERIOUS CRIMES

Q: What is an “SYO” sentence and who is eligible?

A: An “SYO,” or “serious youthful offender” sentence combines a sentence typically given to a juvenile offender with a sentence typically given to an adult. A child’s eligibility for an SYO sentence depends on a variety of factors: age of the child, degree and type of offense, previous commitment to an Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility, and use of a firearm. An SYO sentence cannot be given to any child under 10 years of age.

Q: What is the role of the prosecutor in cases eligible for an SYO sentence?

A: The prosecutor must begin the process and can do so in several ways. In all cases, however, the child has the right to an indictment, which is a presentation of the evidence before a grand jury.

Q: How is the trial of an SYO case different from other juvenile cases?

A: The court first must conduct a preliminary hearing to determine if there is “probable cause” to believe that the child committed the offense and is eligible for, or must (by law) receive, an SYO sentence. Since an SYO sentence may result in a child being given the same criminal penalties as an adult, the juvenile also is entitled to “adult” rights, including bail, an open and speedy trial, and a trial by jury. The usual criminal procedure rules apply in a trial, except that a child may not give up the right to be represented by a lawyer.

Q: What happens after the court decides an offender is a delinquent child in an SYO case?

A: In certain very serious cases, Ohio law requires the court to order an SYO sentence. In others, the court may or may not issue the SYO sentence after considering the length of time, level of security, and types of programming available in the juvenile system. In either case, when the court issues an SYO sentence, the court issues the juvenile portion of the sentence along with the “adult” portion of the sentence just as if the juvenile were an adult, except that the court cannot order a sentence of death or life imprisonment without parole. The adult portion of the sentence is “stayed,” meaning that the child does not serve the adult sentence at that time. The “adult” sentence may not have to be served at all if the child successfully completes the juvenile portion of the sentence.

Q: What happens if the child is not successful in the juvenile portion of the sentence?

A: If, while serving the juvenile portion of the sentence, the child commits certain serious conduct or offenses that indicate the child cannot be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, the court can ‘lift’ the stay on the ‘adult’ sentence and order the child to serve the adult portion of the sentence. For this to happen, the court also must find that the child is over the age of 14 and has previously been committed to a DYS facility. When the court finds all these conditions, the court can order the child to be transferred to an adult correctional facility or to adult probation and community controls. The child is given credit for time served in the juvenile system and the authority of the juvenile court is terminated for that and any future charge.

Q: At what age can a child be tried as an adult in Ohio and what is the process?

A: A child, defined as a person under age 18, can be tried as an adult only if the child was age 14 or older at the time of the offense. Nearly all such cases begin in juvenile court with a felony charge. The court must conduct hearings and make certain determinations before the child can be transferred to another court for trial. The process is sometimes referred to as bindover, transfer, waiver, or relinquishment proceedings. In some cases, the child must be tried as an adult. In others, the child can be tried as an adult only if the court orders it.

Q: When is trial as an adult required?

A: Trial as an adult is mandatory in certain very serious cases: (1) when the charge is aggravated murder or murder, and the child is 16 or 17 and has been committed to an Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility and (2) when the charge is a certain serious felony offense, and the child is age 16 or 17 and either has previously been committed to a DYS facility or used a firearm while committing the offense. If the court finds that these conditions exist and that there is probable cause to believe that the child committed the offense, the child must stand trial as an adult. There are also other limited circumstances in which the child must stand trial as an adult.

Q: When can a court decide whether or not to try a child as an adult?

A: When the law does not require transfer, the court has a choice whether to try a child as an adult, but may do so only if the child was 14 years or older at the time of a felony offense. First, the court conducts a hearing to determine if there is probable cause that the child committed the offense. Next, the court orders an investigation, including a mental examination, and conducts another hearing, often called an “amenability” hearing, to decide whether or not the child is likely to be rehabilitated within the juvenile system, and whether or not the community’s safety requires that the child be subject to adult penalties. Some of the factors the court considers are age, physical and mental maturity, past attempts and future potential for rehabilitation, harm suffered by the victim, use of a firearm, and public safety.

Q: What happens after a juvenile court orders the child to stand trial as an adult?

A: After the transfer is ordered, the court will set the terms of bail and order custody of the child to be transferred to the custody of the appropriate authority. The juvenile court’s authority over that case is then terminated. Once tried and if convicted, any sentence of incarceration is to an adult facility. Likewise, any probation is supervised by probation officers who supervise adult offenders.

Q: Can other measures be taken when a youth commits a serious or violent offense?

A: If a child’s case remains in juvenile court, there are other alternatives. When there are multiple charges, the court may impose consecutive sentences in a secure DYS facility. If a firearm was used in the offense and specified in the complaint, the child must be committed to DYS and must serve additional time, ranging from one to five years, for using the firearm. Lastly, in certain circumstances, the court may impose a “serious youthful offender” (SYO) sentence in which a child is given a traditional juvenile sentence as well as an “adult” sentence that is “stayed” or delayed. The child may not have to serve the adult portion of the sentence at all if he or she successfully completes the juvenile portion of the sentence. If the child is older than age 14 and commits certain conduct or offenses while serving the juvenile portion of the SYO sentence (indicating that rehabilitation in the juvenile system is not likely), the child can be sentenced to an adult correctional facility or to adult probation.