State v. Barker

When he was 15 years old, Tyshawn Barker was charged with aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and tampering with evidence.

During a taped custodial interrogation, Tyshawn gave self-incriminating statements to investigators. Under Ohio Revised Code Section 2933.81, if a person is suspected of murder and is subject to a custodial interrogation, all statements made by the person during the interrogation are presumed to be voluntary, if the statements are recorded. Morever, the statute holds that the person who made the statements during the interrogation has the burden of proving that the statements were not voluntary.

At the trial court level, Tyshawn moved to suppress the statements. The state argued that the statutory presumption of voluntariness under R.C. 2933.81 applied. The trial court overruled Tyshawn’s motion to suppress on other grounds. Tyshawn eventually pled no contest to the charges and received a sentence of 25 years to life. On appeal, Tyshawn assigned error to the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. The appellate court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the motion to suppress and applied the R.C. 2933.81 presumption of voluntariness to find that Tyshawn had not met his burden of proving his statements were involuntary.

Juvenile Law Center joined with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at the Bluhm Legal Clinic of Northwestern University School of Law  to file an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court arguing that R.C. 2933.81's presumption that a recorded custodial statement is prima facie voluntary violates the well-established constitutional requirement that the government prove voluntariness.

Our brief argued that Ohio’s presumption of voluntariness for electronically recorded statements makes it an outlier among states. Moreover, the statute’s presumption that a recorded custodial statement is prima facie voluntary is unconstitutional as applied to youth such as Tyshawn. Courts at the highest levels nationwide recognize youths’ unique vulnerability in the interrogation room and therefore apply different constitutional standards than those generally applied to adults. Because R.C. 2933.81 makes the voluntariness presumption apply equally to both juvenile and adult suspects without regard to the unique vulnerabilities of young suspects, the statute denies children the special care due process demands.

In an important win, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision and held that the statutory presumption of voluntariness created by R.C. 2933.81 is unconstitutional as applied to juveniles and that the state retains the burden to prove the validity of a defendant’s Miranda waiver and the voluntariness of any statements made by the defendant while in custody.