COLUMBUS - Today, the Children’s Law Center, Office of the Ohio Public Defender, and American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on the Ohio Supreme Court to maintain their support of proposed changes to Juvenile Rule 3. Juv. Rule 3 would guarantee that all children facing a loss of liberty would consult with an attorney before deciding whether to waive their right to counsel. The justices on the state Supreme Court will convene today to discuss whether to modify the proposed rule, to pull the rule amendment from consideration, or to move the current version of the proposed amendment forward toward adoption.

“Children are fundamentally different than adults. They are less likely to understand complex legal proceedings or the ramifications of proceeding without counsel, and cannot properly defend themselves in court,” said Children’s Law Center Executive Director Kim Tandy. “Children need an advocate to help them navigate through the complex legal system. While judges and parents often help these young people, there is no substituting for an independent attorney.”

“More than a dozen states have enacted measures that protect a child’s access to counsel, with some states prohibiting children from waiving counsel altogether,” added Jill Beeler, chief counsel of the juvenile division of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender. “These states have found that having defense counsel aids in the juvenile court process, and reassures the children that the process is fair, allowing the children to feel more invested in their own rehabilitation. It’s time Ohio join the national movement to ensure our children are protected in our courts.”

Currently, children must consult with either a parent/guardian or an attorney before they waive their right to counsel. As a result, many young people needlessly waive their right to counsel without understanding the consequences, which include harsher punishments, wrongful conviction, and other collateral consequences. Both the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative recommend that children should not waive counsel before consulting with an attorney.

“State and federal officials have recently begun research into the effects of juveniles waiving counsel, and many are watching Ohio closely,” concluded ACLU of Ohio Policy Director Shakyra Diaz. “Ohio needs to keep up with other states, not lag behind. If we want parents and children to make the best decisions possible in the justice system, we must equip them with a legal expert who can properly guide them.”

Following the Ohio Supreme Court’s meeting on April 5, the Court may announce whether the rule will be altered or if it will remain intact. The Ohio General Assembly will ultimately have the opportunity to disapprove or remain silent on the rule. If they do not disapprove of it, Juv. Rule 3 would go into effect on July 1, 2012.