Can my Juvenile Court OVI Count as a Prior Conviction?

taking a breathalyzer test

An OVI (DUI) offense is one of a number of criminal and traffic offenses in which a prior conviction of that same offense can result in being charged with a higher degree violation and/or being subjected to increased penalties.  When charged with an OVI offense under Section 4511.19 of the Ohio Revised Code.  For example, having prior convictions for OVI may “enhance” a subsequent OVI charge, resulting in a felony rather than a misdemeanor charge.  Prior OVI convictions will also often result in more serious consequences, even if the degree of the offense is not increased.  The question I often receive is whether a prior OVI case in Juvenile Court can be used to enhance a subsequent OVI committed as an adult.

In the past, the Ohio courts were split on the issue.  Several appellate courts in Ohio have held that prior juvenile proceedings did not “count” as prior convictions for this purpose.  The argument was that juvenile proceedings pursuant to Revised Code Chapter 2151 are considered to be neither “criminal” nor “civil” in nature.  Under Ohio law, a child cannot be found to have committed a crime but can only be found to be a delinquent child, an unruly child, or a traffic offender.  For example, in delinquency proceedings, a child is not “convicted” of an offense but is “adjudicated delinquent of offense that would be a crime if committed by an adult.”  The purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate juveniles without the stigma of a criminal conviction.

These appellate courts noted a number of distinctions between criminal prosecutions and juvenile adjudications.  For example, the United States Supreme Court has stated that a trial by jury in criminal cases is fundamental and guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.  However, states are not required to provide jury trials in juvenile proceedings.

In 1996, the Ohio General Assembly cleared up the debate by enacting Revised Code Section 2901.08(A), which states:

If a person is alleged to have committed an offense and if the person previously has been adjudicated a delinquent child or juvenile traffic offender for a violation of a law or ordinance, *** the adjudication as a delinquent child or as a juvenile traffic offender is a conviction for a violation of the law or ordinance for purposes of determining the offense with which the person should be charged and, if the person is convicted of or pleads guilty to an offense, the sentence to be imposed upon the person relative to the conviction or guilty plea.

Thus, although a prior juvenile court adjudication for OVI does not “count” as a criminal conviction, it does constitute a “prior conviction” for purposes of enhancing a subsequent OVI offense, regardless of whether that offense is prosecuted in juvenile or adult court.  For that reason, it would be unwise to downplay the seriousness of an OVI offense just because the charge is filed in juvenile court.  If you or someone you know are facing an OVI in juvenile or adult court, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Horwitz & Horwitz, and schedule a free consultation today.