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Lawmakers reintroduce bill to protect children during interrogations

Special to the Legal News

Published: March 6, 2013

A bill drafted in response to a Supreme Court of Ohio decision is back before the legislature.

House Bill 50, a reintroduction of House Bill 597 from the previous General Assembly, was crafted to protect the rights of minors before and during custodial interrogations.

The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Tracy Heard, D-Columbus, and Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, requires that before a child is questioned about anything concerning a charge that the child allegedly committed which would be a criminal offense if they were an adult, and the child has been taken into custody or deprived of freedom of action in any significant way by a law enforcement officer or court employee, the interrogator must inform the child of his or her right to an attorney and the right to remain silent.

“The intent of this legislation is very simple,” said Heard during sponsor testimony for the bill last week before the House Judiciary committee.

“This bill is in response to the Ohio Supreme Court case ln re M. W. where the 4-to-3 split bench decided that juvenile suspects are not entitled to legal counsel until law enforcement files official charges against the juvenile.”

In deference to the court, Heard previously said, she held back on introducing the bill until their ruling and described the decision as “understandable.”

“It is the judiciary’s responsibility to interpret the law as conflicts arise. When the law is interpreted to not protect children, it is a legislator’s job to write a law that does,” she noted.

If enacted, HB 50 would require that all children under the age of 18, unless emancipated, be read, in their own language, their rights concerning a police interrogation.

Heard said accused youths would not be required to answer any questions and would be permitted to speak to their parents or an attorney prior to offering a statement.

“The legislation also seeks to ensure that no admission or confession resulting from an interrogation of a child be admitted into evidence against the child unless the confession or admission was made in the presence of a child’s parent, guardian, custodian or attorney,” she said.

“If an attorney is not present, no such admission or confession may be admitted into evidence ... unless the parent, guardian or custodian, as well as the child, was advised of the child’s rights.”

The bill states that a child’s rights could not be waived solely by a parent, guardian or custodian.

“This legislation also requires the court to take into account all circumstances surrounding the waiver of rights including, but not limited to, the child’s physical, mental and emotional maturity; whether the child or the child’s parent, guardian, custodian or attorney understood the consequences of the child’s statement (and) whether the child, parent, guardian or custodian has been informed of the act with which the child was charged or of which the child was suspected,” Heard said.

HB 50 is co-sponsored by more than a dozen House members.

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