Juvenile Justice

Ohio Supreme Court Protects Juveniles’ Right to Counsel when Confinement is Possible


Ohio’s Supreme Court has ruled, if confinement is a potential punishment in any juvenile court case, the defendant has a right to due process―including counsel―throughout every stage of his or her legal proceedings.

The ruling found “a juvenile must have waived his or her right to an attorney before an adjudication can be used to enhance a later adult conviction for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” Ohio law “enhances” an OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) misdemeanor into a felony if an offender is convicted of five or more OVIs.

The Supreme Court was considering a case in which a juvenile court in 1992 found a defendant had committed the equivalent of OVI if he had been an adult. Later, as an adult, he received a number of OVI convictions between 1996 and 2011. The 1992 conviction was counted as one of these felonies in the 2011 sentencing (in this case, to 36 months’ imprisonment with another 54 months suspended).

But during the 1992 juvenile hearing, the defendant was not represented by and did not waive his right to counsel. Hence, the Ohio Supreme Court overturned a Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmation of the trial court’s findings, returned this case to trial court, and reinforced the role of due process in juvenile cases.

Read more in this April 23 Court News Ohio case feature.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio consistently has focused attention on―and championed efforts to reinforce―juveniles’ right to counsel. Here are links to three sources illustrating this and providing additional information: