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Ohio Rule Would Protect a Child’s Right to an Attorney

March 27, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Giving up the right to an attorney in court can be a risky move, and a new rule would help ensure that right is protected for children in Ohio's juvenile justice system. Juvenile Rule 3 requires that children who face possible loss of liberty consult with an attorney before waiving counsel.

The policy director for the ACLU of Ohio, Shakira Diaz, says young people are not as developed as adults and may not fully understand the consequences of their actions.

"The capacity of a young person versus an adult is very different, and so we have two different judicial systems. That said, we want make sure that young people are accompanied through that process, that they are fully aware, and that at the very least they consult with a legal expert."

Under current law, a child is required to speak with an adult before waiving the right to an attorney, but Diaz says that adult may not understand the legal ramifications of proceeding without an attorney, or understand what is in the best legal interest of the child.

Juvenile Rule 3 was approved by the Ohio Supreme Court and will be adopted July 1, unless the General Assembly passes a motion of disapproval prior to that date.

Those who oppose Juvenile Rule 3 say it would be too expensive to implement. But Diaz points out that children without an attorney are more likely to be sentenced to detention, which could be more costly than providing counsel.

"We cannot put a price tag on the constitutional rights of children. Other states who have proceeded with these changes were worried about similar concerns and they were able to get through it; Ohio could do the same."

Others have claimed that requiring counsel could interfere with the parent-child relationship. Diaz says the rule will actually empower families to make informed decisions together.

"It allows parents to have a better understanding of the legal process. The legal system for adults is very complex, and going through it with your child can be very complex and overwhelming."

Ohio recently made changes to the juvenile court system that included the introduction of a juvenile competency standard and provisions that increase judicial discretion.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH