State Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard has introduced legislation to clarify the General Assembly’s intent regarding juvenile access to legal counsel after the Ohio Supreme Court issued a 4-3 split decision in the case of In re M.W.
“This is a bill I started working on about a year ago and discovered that the Court was deliberating In re M.W. In deference to the Court, I held the bill pending their ruling,” said Rep. Heard. “The decision is not what I had hoped, but 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.”
The bill would require that any child under the age of 18, unless emancipated, be read, in their own language, their rights in regard to interrogation. Accused youths would also not be required to answer any questions, and gives them the right to speak to their parents or legal counsel prior to answering questions. “It is now clear that in order to give the same minimum equal protection to minors that we give to adults as they engage our law enforcement and court systems – we must legislate,” said the Representative. “When I first became aware of this issue, I challenged it because I found it incomprehensible that we so poorly managed juveniles in this process.”
Rep. Heard agrees with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s dissent, which was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Yvette McGee Brown, where the Chief Justice held that the majority’s definition of “proceeding” is inadequate, and is contrary to the General Assembly’s intent found in the Ohio Revised Code. Rep. Heard also feels that she is heeding Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger’s concurrent opinion where Justice Lanzinger opined that the question of when a “proceeding” begins is a policy matter to be addressed by the legislature.
The bill will be formally introduced on the floor of the Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday, October 10th in a non-voting session.