In re M.H.
Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court in support of 13-year-old M.H., who was interviewed by a social worker in lieu of a police officer during the course of a police investigation and ultimately charged with a crime. Despite M.H.’s young age, his interview was conducted without the presence of a parent or counsel, and without appropriate Miranda warnings.
Juvenile Law Center’s brief argued that M.H.’s statements to a government social worker may have been involuntary and violated due process even if the government social worker was not required to give Miranda warnings because youth are more susceptible to coercion, conditioned to comply with adults’ requests, cognitively disadvantaged when navigating the juvenile justice system, and misunderstand their rights even when actively informed of their rights. These factors exist even when the person questioning youth is not a police officer. M.H.’s confession illustrates both how youth bend to pressure which adults may resist and why children need additional protections to ensure procedural fairness.
In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court found that there had been no violation of M.H.’s due process rights, because the investigator was not a law enforcement officer and the confession was not causally related to any conduct of the police. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stewart stated that due process protections extend to coercive actions taken by state actors other than the police. The dissent considered M.H.’s youth in concluding that his confession was involuntary, noting “that M.H. was never informed of his rights prior to the questioning and was only 13 years old at the time of the questioning is evidence that M.H. did not know or understand the rights he was giving up by answering [the social worker’s] questions.”