Juvenile Offenders; Knowing Waiver of Right Against Self-Incrimination

Ohio v. Barker, 2016 Ohio 2708 (Ohio 2016)

Ohio Supreme Court rules that Ohio law providing that recorded statements made by defendant in custodial setting are presumed to be voluntary violates juvenile’s right to due process and does not remove burden from the state to prove that waiver of right against self-incrimination was knowingly made. 

Background: In October 2011, Tyshawn Barker was questioned by police while in custody concerning the shooting deaths of two individuals. The detectives recorded the interrogation, read Barker the Miranda warnings, and asked him to sign a “Notification of Rights” form, explaining “…I am going to ask you to sign it. You’re not admitting to anything. I am just telling you it just says that I read you this [the warnings], okay?” The form included a preprinted statement, “I understand my rights,” but did not indicate that by signing the form it would waive rights. Barker was evaluated as part of the juvenile court’s determination about transfer, and he was found to have a low IQ, below-gradelevel academic abilities, and to have an individualized education plan. Barker was transferred to adult court, where he moved to have his statements suppressed, arguing that he had not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights. The trial court dismissed his motion, not making a finding on his waiver, but finding that he had voluntarily made statements. Ohio law (R.C. 2933.81(B)) stated that recorded interrogations were presumed voluntary. Barker was convicted and he appealed. The First District Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions, finding support in the record for the trial court’s decision about his rights waiver despite the absence of an express finding on the point. Barker appealed.

Holding: The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed and remanded. The Court distinguished two issues: the rights waiver issue, which was rooted in the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and voluntary statements issue, which was rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment due process right. Addressing the rights waiver, the Court found that R.C. 2933.81(B) did not apply to waiver of Fifth Amendment rights, and noted that state and federal case law make clear that rights waivers cannot be presumed and state legislatures cannot supersede federal constitutional law. Ultimately, the Court held that the state retains the burden of proving that Barker waived his rights. As to the second issue, the Court noted that juveniles require greater protections than adults. The Court noted that voluntariness of statements is assessed via the totality of circumstances test, and that R.C. 2933.81(B) effectively blocked consideration of the totality of circumstances, at least in juvenile cases, by its presumption of voluntariness. Ultimately, it held the law to be unconstitutional as applied to juveniles.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2