In re M.W.

NJDC, Juvenile Law Center, Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and the Children’s Law Center together as amici submitted a brief urging the Ohio Supreme Court to adopt a bright line rule that juveniles must have meaningful access to counsel during police interrogations and prior to waiver of their rights under Miranda v. Arizona.

The Ohio Public Defender’s position was that Ohio statute 2151.352 entitles juvenile offenders to representation by counsel or parent presence, at all “stages of the proceedings,” thus children cannot waive their Fifth Amendment right to counsel during a custodial interrogation. NJDC and co-amici went a step further and asserted that counsel is essential to ensure that children’s rights are protected during interrogations.  

Amici argued that juveniles have a more limited understanding of the justice system and face particular challenges in navigating that system. Absent consultation with counsel, juveniles lack the capacity to properly understand the consequences of an interrogation and to weigh the risks and benefits of answering questions. Amici asserted that such a rule is compelled by developmental and scientific research and consistent with United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, including J.D.B. v. North Carolina, recognizing that children are different from adults and must be accorded appropriate safeguards and protections during interrogation. The developmental characteristics of youth and their particular susceptibility to coercion inevitably lead to improper waivers of rights and have produced growing evidence of false confessions.

Oral argument for this case was held on December 6, 2011. NJDC shared time with counsel for appellant and strongly asserted the position that only counsel can fulfill the role of giving meaningful advice to a child about his or her decision to proceed with or without an attorney in an interrogation.

On October 3, 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court in a 4-3 split found for the State, holding that a police interrogation that occurs prior to the filing of a complaint or the youth’s initial appearance in court is not a “proceeding” under the statute. While the majority of the court did not agree with amici and also did not adopt OPD’s position that at least a parent must be present before waiver of Miranda during a police interrogation, there is some hope for legislative change in Ohio.

One of the judges who concurred in the majority opinion wrote that this was a matter of public policy to be addressed by the legislature. She said that the General Assembly may choose to define the term “proceedings” to include a statutory right to counsel for juveniles during investigations of delinquency if they so choose. One dissent argued that “the majority’s holding offends the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional commands on a juvenile’s due process and Fifth Amendment rights, our own precedent, and the intent of the General Assembly in enacting R.C. 2151.352.”

The Ohio Public Defender assigned to this case filed a motion for rehearing which was subsequently denied by the court.

Court: Supreme Court of Ohio
July 8, 2011 (download .pdf)
Amicus Brief Discusses: Adolescent Development; Police Interrogations; Post-J.D.B.

Oral Argument: December 6, 2011
October 3, 2012
Motion for Reconsideration Filed: October 15, 2012
Motion for Reconsideration Denied: November 28, 2012