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Published: Tuesday, 4/5/2005

Local teen puts recent youth law to the test

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

He has had more arrests than birthdays, and now a Toledo teenager could become the first delinquent in Ohio to do adult time under a three-year-old law that's aimed at cracking down on particularly troublesome youths.

"Essentially, this is a statute we're interpreting for the first time," said Larry Kiroff, chief prosecutor for Lucas County Juvenile Court.

Ohio's Serious Youthful Offender law - "SYO," in court lingo - took effect Jan. 1, 2002. The law was designed to target delinquents who were more serious criminal offenders, but not quite dangerous enough or old enough to stand trial as adults for their crimes.

The law allows juvenile court judges to hand out both adult and juvenile sentences to such youthful offenders. Since its passage, 101 teenagers have been sent to Ohio Department of Youth Services lock-ups with an adult sentence hanging over their heads.

Should they have further run-ins with the law while they serve out their juvenile sentences, a judge could order them to serve their adult sentence in adult prison.

Similar "blended sentencing" laws are on the books in Michigan and 13 other states, according to the National Center for Juvenile Justice, a research center in Pittsburgh.

Most Ohio youths have served, or are serving their sentences, without serious problems, the state reported.

Then there is Toledo's Anthony Brown, who is now incarcerated at the Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility in Massillon, Ohio.

Now 18, his juvenile criminal record dates to when he was just 9 years old, after he struck a schoolmate and struggled with a teacher.

In the following years, the youth fought with other children, teachers, and even his mother.

He ran away from home.

He ran away from police.

He stole vehicles.

In one case, the Brown youth injured several of his young passengers while he tried to flee police crews.

On Aug. 5, 2002, Mr. Brown was sentenced to a state Youth Services facility by Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge James Ray.

The judge also imposed, then suspended a four-year adult sentence.

That meant the Brown youth could face the adult portion of his sentence if he got into trouble again.

It didn't take long.

Paroled in July, 2004, he was arrested a few weeks later on traffic violations.

Again, Judge Ray sent him back to the Indian River facility, where the youth refused an officer's order to move to the back of a line.

When the officer tried to move him physically, the teenager struggled and struck the officer, according to records of the Oct. 12 incident.

Now, Youth Services is requesting that the Lucas County prosecutor's office send the case back to Judge Ray, who could order the teenager into the adult system.

Youth Services staff have twice previously considered, then decided not to pursue, sending two youths back to their local courts with the recommendation that they serve out their adult sentences, said Andrea Kruse, a spokesman for Youth Services.

Mr. Kiroff, who declined to comment on specifics of the case, now must decide whether to file a motion with Judge Ray to ask the judge to impose the adult sentence on Mr. Brown.

Though Judge Ray declined to speak on the specifics of the case, he said the justice system, in general, cannot rush to judgement in sending a teenager over to the adult system.

"It has to be a very thoughtful and thorough process to be fair to the defendant. You cannot casually invoke SYO," the judge said.

A hearing on the assault on the Youth Services staff is scheduled for April 18.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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