Ohio Supreme Court Holds That Juveniles Do Not Have Right to Counsel During Interrogation

The Ohio Supreme Court determined that a juvenile has no statutory right to counsel during a police interrogation conducted before a complaint is filed or an appearance is made in juvenile court.

The case is In re M.W., Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-4538.

The case started in 2009.  A Cleveland Police Sergeant stopped a vehicle driven by the juvenile and determined he had no valid Ohio driver’s license and had also provided a false name.  When the Sergeant asked the juvenile why he lied about his name, M.W. stated he “thought [he] could get away with it.”

The juvenile also mentioned another juvenile who had been arrested for aggravated robbery the previous day.  When asked about the robbery, the juvenile admitted that he had served as the lookout. Back at the station, the juvenile was provided with his Miranda warnings and then provided a written statement.

The juvenile argued that the state had violated R.C. 2151.352, a statute providing juveniles with a right to representation by legal counsel at all stages of the proceedings.  The juvenile argued that giving a written statement was “a proceeding” and therefore triggered his statutory right to counsel.  He also argued that any waiver of his Miranda rights was invalid based because he had not consulted with an attorney or parent.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the statutory argument.  The court said:

the term “proceedings” denotes acts or events taken between the time of commencing an action at law until the entry of a final judgment by a judicial tribunal.  “Proceedings” evokes a court of law, not the investigatory action taken by police prior to the filing of a complaint or a juvenile’s initial appearance before a tribunal.

The court conclude that the juvenile was not entitled to an attorney during the interrogation because only the complaint filed by the police commenced the delinquency proceeding, and invoked the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, and afforded the juvenile the right to counsel pursuant to the statute.

The court emphasized that the decision was limited to the statutory issue.  Although the juvenile had a Fifth Amendment right to counsel pursuant to Miranda, he did not exercise that right.

Justice O’Connor dissented, saying that the “majority’s holding offends the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional commands on a juvenile’s due process and Fifth Amendment rights . . .”  Also:  “Because  it is founded in due process, the juvenile’s right to counsel in proceedings is a malleable right rather than a rigid one; it is driven by concerns for fundamental fairness.”


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