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Published: Sunday, 3/8/2009

Toledo area teens receiving a dose of adult justice

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Daniel Wilson, 18, was transferred from juvenile to adult court because of the severity of his alleged crime and his record. Daniel Wilson, 18, was transferred from juvenile to adult court because of the severity of his alleged crime and his record.
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Hanging his head slightly, his wrists shackled to a chain around his waist, Daniel Wilson listened as the litany of felony crimes he committed during his young life - and the rehabilitative efforts offered him - were recounted to a Lucas County Juvenile Court judge.

His attorney portrayed him as a scared teenager who could be helped through rehabilitation. And he listened as an assistant county prosecutor listed the forms of his rehabilitation efforts that had failed.

Arrested on Dec. 26 at age 17, Wilson is accused of deliberately driving a pickup truck into a police cruiser and leading officers on a chase. The officers sustained minor injuries and Wilson, now 18, faces four felony charges.

This week, nearly five years after his first felony landed him in the judicial system, Wilson was transferred out of Juvenile Court and certified to face these new charges as an adult.

"Rehabilitation is part of the [Juvenile] Court's goals, but at some point it is true that rehabilitation no longer works," Assistant County Prosecutor Kate Sandretto argued before Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon during Wilson's certification hearing. "He has been given every opportunity and he continues to commit crimes."

Young Wilson is the seventh teenager originally charged as a juvenile who faces charges this year as an adult in Lucas County. Four have been certified since Jan. 1, while the other three were transferred to adult late last year.

A fifth teenager will learn tomorrow if he is to be treated as an adult when a judge announces her decision.

With Wilson's transfer, the Lucas County numbers for the first nine weeks of the year equal nearly half of last year's nine certifications.

The Ohio Supreme Court says juvenile certification numbers statewide have increased over the past five years. In 2004, 232 juveniles were bound over to adult court, a number that jumped to 290 juveniles last year.

While the Lucas County numbers appear high, it doesn't necessarily mean that certifications are on the rise, Juvenile Court Administrator Dan Pompa said. Over the past few years, juvenile certifications have averaged about 10 per year. And nothing, Mr. Pompa said, indicates that this year is different.

At least not yet.

Lori Olender, supervisor of the juvenile division of the prosecutor's office, said that what links most cases sent from the Juvenile Justice Center to Common Pleas Court is simple - guns.

"My general rule is, yes, if somebody shoots somebody else, we're going to try and certify him," Ms. Olender said, adding that age and background are also considered. "More kids have guns lately; that's what I think is going up. They've got guns and they're using them."

Ohio law states that juveniles as young as 14 can be transferred to adult criminal court if they are charged with a crime that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult.

Juveniles are automatically bound over to adult court in certain situations. In other cases, juvenile judges have discretion.

Juveniles must be transferred to adult court if:

•They are age 16 or 17 and are charged with a Category One offense, including aggravated murder, murder, or attempt to commit aggravated murder or murder.

•They are 14 or 15, commit a Category One offense and previously have been through the system for a serious crime.

•They are 16 or 17 and charged with using a gun while committing a Category Two offense, including voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated arson, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and F1 involuntary manslaughter, or if they have a serious record.

If a juvenile doesn't fall into one of the mandatory bind-over categories, prosecutors and judges have a decision to make.

When arguing on Wilson's behalf, attorney Jane Roman noted that the mantra of Juvenile Court always has been, "In the best interest of the child."

Although recognizing her client's criminal past, she urged the judge to use discretion and keep Wilson out of the adult system, where he likely could continue down an even darker path.

William Wilson, the teenager's father, had spent time in prison. He told Judge Cubbon that he believed another method would get through to his son.

"To put him on a pathway that I've endured probably wouldn't help him much," he said. "Maybe the severity of this will help him change his ways."

In Lucas County last year,, nine juveniles were sent to adult court - all ages 16 and 17 and most on burglary-related charges. Burglary and robbery charges often make up the bulk of certified teens, who are usually bound over after having several chances at rehabilitation in the juvenile system.

In 2007, nine juveniles were transferred to adult court. In 2006 and in 2004, 13 juveniles were transferred and in 2005, that number was eight. Over the past five years, only two 15 year olds have been certified, including Robert Jobe, convicted of murder in the February, 2007, death of Toledo police Detective Keith Dressel.

The rest have been older.

"I think since I took over, there have been more certifications than before," Ms. Olender said. "Sometimes we worry, a lot of us here, that these kids just don't take Juvenile Court seriously. From the prosecutor's perspective, we're keeping the community safe."

Working toward that end, Ms. Olender said her staff always will file motions to certify those juveniles charged with crimes that are considered mandatory bind-overs. Violent crimes involving guns are submitted as well.

While a prosecutor's office may file for transfers in dozens of cases throughout the year, most of those juveniles don't end up in adult court.

Instead, some of motions for certification are denied, some are dismissed, and in several cases, pleas are reached and the juveniles are placed in the Department of Youth Services or the Youth Treatment Center. Others are given probation.

When judges decide whether to certify a juvenile in a discretionary case, they must determine whether the individual can be rehabilitated in the juvenile system.

But even on discretionary cases, state law weighs in heavily, Judge Cubbon said.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, three factors must be considered when deciding discretionary transfers, including:

•The child must be 14 years or older.

•There is probable cause.

•The child is not amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system and the safety of the community may require that the child is subject to adult sanctions.

"It's always a tough call. It's a decision I always take very seriously," Judge Cubbon said. "I guess it goes back to, what is the purpose of Juvenile Court and when you look at the factors, they come back to what the goal of juvenile court is: Rehabilitation."

While discretion allows judges to consider a case based on the individual involved, it also allows for "88 different ways" for deciding certification based on which of Ohio's 88 counties the juvenile lives in, said Amy Borror, spokesman for the Ohio public defender's office.

"It's a very hard balance to strike in the juvenile system. Ultimately, you want there to be a lot of discretion, you want everyone involved to look at the individual child and the offense they are accused of so that they are treated appropriately," she said. "But at same time, the discretion can lead to a lot of the disparities where you have one county who is certifying lots of kids and other counties that don't."

All states have laws that permit children to be charged as adults. Ohio is one of 15 states that have laws mandating transfers in specific situations. Those laws differ from the American Bar Association recommendation that judges be given the authority to decide whether to transfer a juvenile to adult court based on myriad factors, including "whether the child is capable of rehabilitation."

The mandatory transfers continue to be a concern for state and national groups.

Jill Beeller, chief counsel for the juvenile division for the state public defender's office, noted that juvenile certifications are going up during a time when in general, crime, especially violent crime, is going down.

"The mandatory kids are the biggest concern," she said. "If they can be rehabilitated in the juvenile court system, they are less likely to go on and commit more crimes. That's the goal."

When announcing her decision to grant the prosecutor's request to transfer Wilson to adult court, Judge Cubbon said that ultimately her decision was a result of determining that the factors in favor of transfer outweighed those against.

She noted that Wilson had several opportunities to take advantage of programs in the juvenile system, but that the call of the streets has kept him from succeeding.

"You have many fine attributes. You're a nice kid, you're friendly, and you're smart. ... I hope you can move quickly through these matters," the judge told Wilson.

"In terms of your criminality, you failed to address the fact that you enjoy the streets too much," she said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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