Monday, March 25, 2002

Death case tests juvenile provision

Teen accused of killing could face adult facility

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A 14-year-old girl accused of killing her father could become Hamilton County's first true test of a new state law authorizing tougher sentences for juveniles.

        Under the provision, a sentence that might have kept a minor who commits a serious crime detained only until he or she turns 21 could now be extended well into adulthood.

  New provisions for youth offenders:
  • Creation of a “serious youthful offender” category to identify juveniles accused of violent offenses who would benefit more from prosecution in juvenile court rather than adult court.
  • Juveniles who are classified “serious youthful offender” and are ordered detained until they turn 21 can be sent to adult prison if they fail to respond to juvenile rehabilitation programs.
  • Protection of public safety and offender accountability are new overriding priorities. At one time, rehabilitation of the juvenile was the most significant purpose of juvenile law.
        Critics say the law creates an increasingly fuzzy line between adults and juvenileswithin the criminal justice system.

        But proponents of the law, which went into effect Jan. 1, say it helps judges distinguish between Dennis the Menace and Billy the Kid while still giving a troubled child a chance at redemption.

        The Avondale teen is scheduled to appear today before Hamilton County Juvenile Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon.

        The girl faces one count each of involuntary manslaughter and felonious assault in the death of her 39-year-old father, Archie Dale Hall. Mr. Hall died Feb. 18 after two weeks on a respirator at University Hospital.

        Officials say that on Jan. 28, he and his 14-year-old daughter argued inside their Northern Avenue home about the girl's 17-year-old boyfriend. The argument turned physical and the girl allegedly threw bleach in her father's face.

        The 17-year-old boyfriend, who was present, allegedly placed Mr. Hall in a choke hold and the man began coughing up blood.

        The boyfriend is charged with one count each of felonious assault and complicity to felonious assault.<

Rehabilitating juveniles

        Neither teen is being named because they're both charged as juveniles.

        Mr. Hall never regained consciousness, police said. Prosecutors contend bleach inhalation contributed to his death. They are awaiting the

        results of postmortem tests.

        Judge Hendon is expected to consider the new law while deciding whether to send the girl, who has no major criminal record, to adult court or keep the case in juvenile court.

        If she stays in juvenile court, the girl could be classified as a “serious youthful offender,” another provision of the new law. She would still be treated as a juvenile, but be eligible to have her case reviewed by a grand jury.

        She also would have the option of a jury trial. And, if convicted, could be ordered to serve time in both youth detention and an adult correctional facility.

        One other teen has been classified as a serious youthful offender in Hamilton County. However, in that case the juvenile pleaded guilty to a robbery charge and was sentenced to probation, officials said.

        The law states that an extended adult sentence would be added if a juvenile fails to benefit from reha bilitation programs.

        “I don't think people have given up on the concept of rehabilitating juveniles. I know I haven't,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen.

        “But there are some cases and some juvenile defendants that you are not going to be able to rehabilitate, and you need a hammer like this to hang over their heads,” he said.

        The new law is a double-edge sword, said Terry Weber, a Hamilton County assistant public defender.

        While it does give juveniles greater constitutional protection, it paves the way for those who wish to treat troubled children as “young criminals.”

        Juvenile courts were established, Mr. Weber said, to “informally focus on the child and not particularly on the offending behavior.” A significant rise in serious violent crime by juveniles has helped to erode this initial concept.

        “The harsh reality of the situation is that today we see the alleged juvenile delinquent not as a child who needs the guidance of society to return to the straight and narrow, but as a criminal-in-training who must be stopped now in his youth and kept away from society before he or she can inflict any more harm on the citizenry,” Mr. Weber said.

        In 1996, the Sentencing Commission on Juveniles, a subcommittee of the Ohio Sentencing Commission, was formed to address public outrage over the increase in serious juvenile crime.

        From that body, composed of about 30 members — prosecutors, defense lawyers, juvenile judges, police officers, victim rights advocates and politicians — came the basis for the new law.

        State Rep. Robert Latta (R-Bowling Green) sponsored the bill when he was in the Senate last session.

        “Unfortunately, it's become a much more violent world out there,” Mr. Latta said. “We can't legislate family values or good parenting or ethics or morality. Unfortunately, we get stuck with all the aftermath of the failure of the above.

        “We have to first of all protect society,” Mr. Latta said. “We have to help the victim. And, we want to make sure that the individual takes responsibility for the criminal action.”

        In the Hamilton County case, prosecutors are seeking a trial in adult court and plan to pursue a serious youthful offender classification if an adult court trial is denied.

        Judge Hendon was a member of the Sentencing Commission on Juveniles that helped create the legislation.

        However, in the past, Judge Hendon has expressed a wish to keep some violent cases in juvenile court regardless of the egregious circumstances because she believed the child would benefit best from juvenile facilities, programs and court treatment.

        Judge Hendon did not respond to a request for an interview.


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