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Ohio Supreme Court Debates the Process of Waiving Rights by Juveniles
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While juveniles are taken to be incapable of taking mature decisions in every sphere of law, their decisions are taken to be sufficiently mature when it comes to them waiving off their rights to lawyers. The practice, long-integrated into juvenile processes have come under flak from activists. As a consequence, and as a step towards the right direction, the Ohio Supreme Court is considering whether to require juvenile offenders facing detention to consult with an attorney before waiving their right to a lawyer.

The American Bar Association has been crying foul of the practice consistently, beginning with an ABA report of 2003 that found a majority of poor children in Ohio routinely waiving off their right to an attorney. The result is that two out of every three children facing the court does so without an attorney in Ohio, according to an analysis of the state data in 2004.

Juvenile judges in more than 60 counties in Ohio have expressed deep concern at the proposal citing costs to court and interference with parental authority, which according to them should be final. Apparently the costs to democracy or the costs to the souls of children do not matter to these judges presiding over the destinies of juveniles.


The time-conscious court administration director of Painsville, Lake County Juvenile Court, has taken the pains to write a letter against the proposal saying “The time it would take for a Public Defender to have this discussion with the thousands of cases each year would certainly slow the court process.”

Juvenile Judge Timothy Grendell (not Grendel) from Geauga County opposes the proposal because it would amount to an unfunded mandate on counties. He wrote, “Juvenile judges are in the best position to explain the right to counsel to a juvenile and parents and to determine if and when legal counsel is appropriate for a juvenile based on the facts and circumstances of the case” and circulated his opposition to the proposed measure.

The requirement is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Ohio Public Defender’s Office. It is opposed with ferocity by judicial groups and the County Commissioners Association.

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The only states which have already made it mandatory for juveniles to have attorney consultation before waiving of their rights to have a lawyer for defense include Alaska, Florida, Maryland and five other states. There are several other states that prohibit the waiving off of right to a lawyer by juveniles.



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