Opinion: Juveniles deserve legal counsel



Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a junior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that those under 18 years old are not entitled to legal or parental counsel during police investigations that occur before charges are officially filed. They are also not entitled to counsel before an initial appearance in juvenile court. This means that police can take a juvenile to the police station for questioning without giving them the chance to speak with his or her parents or lawyer.

Many organizations such as the Juvenile Justice Coalition have expressed their disapproval of the narrow 4-3 decision, and the judges who opposed the ruling wrote that it “offends fundamental notions of due process and fairness … [and] defies law, logic and common sense.”

Perhaps the ruling will allow police to do their job more efficiently—it may result in more arrests because if a juvenile admits to a crime, he or she can be charged for it. However, one of the biggest problems associated with the ruling is the fact that few juveniles understand their rights when being interrogated, and may give false confessions in response to the intense pressure. Remember, they’re still minors.

They shouldn’t have anything to be afraid of if they aren’t engaging in illegal activities, though, right? I don’t know about you, but the one time I’ve ever been pulled over — on my 19th birthday, no less — I was in a state of duress as the state trooper pulled both my car and another over at the same time.

I wasn’t panicking because I had broken any law other than speeding, but simply for the fact that being pulled over for the first time is undisputedly terrifying. It is intimidation at its most raw. Whether or not police do it intentionally, we understand that they are “the man” in a sense, and there’s no denying that some minors are naive enough to panic and offer a false confession.

But the real issue here is one based on ideology. Juveniles do not have many rights until legal adulthood: smoking cigarettes, voting and serving in the military, to name a few. These restrictive laws are in place to protect, since these persons are still developing.

However, a law that deprives our youth of a constitutional right that results in horror is not protecting anyone. If they are not civically qualified enough to vote in an election, how can they be subject to a police interrogation without the chance to consult their own parents beforehand?

There is a fine line between protection and abuse, particularly with law enforcement. If it were your child, would you want to be notified if he or she were being subjected to police interrogation? I feel most sane parents would say, “Yes.” Much of the citizen verdict seems to agree: If a minor is taken in for questioning by police, he or she should be ensured legal counsel. This is a very basic right.