Posted December 22, 202010:56 am
On December 22, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that indigent parents have a right to legal counsel when faced with losing their parental rights. This means, for example, that a mother struggling with an opioid addiction now has the right to an attorney if the state is trying to take custody of her child.
Legal aid organizations across Ohio, including The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, have been advocating for this right for many years.
The high court's decision in re Adoption of Y.E.F. (Slip Opinion) (ohio.gov) reads: "...we declare that indigent parents are entitled to counsel in adoption proceedings in probate court as a matter of equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution."
In the United States, criminal and civil cases are handled differently by the judicial system; the Miranda rights you hear so often on television crime shows (“you have the right to an attorney…”) only apply to criminal cases. That means in most cases about housing, debt, education rights, public benefits, or other civil matters involving basic human needs, people who cannot afford an attorney are on their own. Legal Aid has long advocated for right to counsel laws in civil legal cases, and we are pleased to see the Ohio Supreme Court taking initiative and granting this right to parents who are facing what may be the most important court case of their lives.