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Charges of delinquency must be proved by clear and convincing evidence.
Donald Agler, age 16, was charged with being a delinquent child based on allegations that he caused malicious damage to three farm tractors to the extent of $575. Counsel for Agler filed a pretrial motion for a trial by jury and also moved that the charge be dismissed for the reason that the juvenile had not been indicted by a grand jury. The juvenile court overruled the motion, found the juvenile to be a delinquent child, and committed the juvenile to the Ohio Youth Commission. It was agreed by the prosecuting attorney that the standard of proof applied in this case was that of a preponderance of the evidence. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the disposition of Agler’s case by the Juvenile Court, holding that Agler had no right to be charged by indictment, to trial by jury, or to be held to account only by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Agler challenged the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
The Court noted that a juvenile proceeding was neither a criminal prosecution, nor a proceeding according to the course of the common law, in which the right to a trial by jury was guaranteed. The proceeding was purely statutory; and the commitment was not designed as a punishment for crime, but to place minors under the guardianship of the public authorities named, for proper care and discipline, until they were reformed, or arrive at the age of majority. As such, the Court held that indictment or trial by jury were not requisites in delinquency proceedings, either as matters of constitutional guarantees or sound public policy. Anent the second issue, the Court held that the burden of proof in juvenile hearings which can result in the child's being adjudged a delinquent, irrespective of disposition, need not be beyond a reasonable doubt, but must be greater than a mere preponderance of the evidence. According to the Court, the standard of proof which lent itself most logically to the view of such proceedings, and which will best preserve the special nature thereof, was that of clear and convincing evidence of the truth of the allegations contained in the complaint. In this case, the Court noted that the record was not entirely clear as to the standard of proof applied by the Juvenile Court. Accordingly, the adjudication of delinquency and commitment herein must be reversed and the cause remanded to the Juvenile Court.