Case transfer protections for juveniles advanced

Senators gave first-round approval Jan. 25 to a bill that would prevent certain statements made by juvenile defendants from being used against them in other proceedings.

LB184, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh, aims to protect child defendants attempting to transfer their cases from adult to juvenile court by preventing their statements made to a mental health professional during the hearing process from being used against them in other proceedings. A mental health professional includes a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or licensed mental health practitioner. 

Cavanaugh said that some juveniles refrain from being honest with mental health professionals out of fear that their statements later could be used against them in court. This fear can hinder a mental health professional’s ability to evaluate the child, he said. 

“LB184 is a small but important step for helping those children charged with law violations to get the treatment they need,” Cavanaugh said. 

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 40-0, replaced the bill. The amendment would clarify that such statements are admissible as evidence in the transfer proceedings in certain circumstances. It also would permit statements to be used for impeachment purposes. 

Sen. Carolyn Bosn of Lincoln supported the bill and the amendment, which she said would enable courts to better determine which system, juvenile or adult, is best suited for a young person. Bosn said the amendment represents compromise language agreed to by county attorneys and law enforcement. 

Lincoln Sen. George Dungan, who worked as a public defender in juvenile court, also offered support for the bill. He said it is crucial for a juvenile to be honest with a mental health professional during the evaluation process because it can help the court understand the individual’s background. 

North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson also supported LB184 and agreed with the importance of rehabilitating court-involved youth. He cautioned lawmakers, however, to remember that consequences also are necessary to help prevent future offenses. 

Following the adoption of the committee amendment, senators advanced LB184 to select file on a 41-0 vote.

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