Juvenile court standards amended, advanced

Lawmakers narrowed and advanced a bill from select file April 28 that would ensure legal consultation for juveniles facing serious criminal charges.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks

Under LB307, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, if a juvenile waives the right to legal counsel, the court would be required to show affirmatively that the juvenile would not be removed from their home or detained outside of the home:
• between adjudication and disposition of the case;
• during any probationary period; or
• in response to an alleged probation violation.

The Nebraska State Supreme Court would develop a process to ensure that a juvenile is provided with an opportunity to consult counsel in making the initial decision to waive counsel.

Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist offered an amendment on select file that would narrow the provisions of the bill to apply only when a juvenile has been charged with a felony.

Speaking in support of the Geist amendment was Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen. He said ensuring that parents and juveniles understand their rights, regardless of their legal knowledge, is vital in a system that already is “stacked” against them.

“[This] makes it clear that they can have an opportunity to consult with someone who is objective and can advise them all collectively of their rights to figure out where to go next,” Hansen said.

Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln offered an amendment, adopted 40-1, to address concerns expressed by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene that LB307 would infringe upon parental rights. Under the amendment, an initial consultation with counsel would not be required if the juvenile and their family already have conferred with private counsel before the hearing.

Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh supported the Hilgers amendment. Consulting with counsel before waiving that right is important, he said, because an attorney can guarantee that the juvenile understands their rights fully.

“This [amendment] preserves that intent to make sure that when people do waive [counsel], it is a knowing and understanding waiver and then is fully effectuated because they know what they’re doing,” Cavanaugh said.

Finally, an amendment offered by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop incorporated provisions of his LB354, which would require a judge to consider a motion to transfer a criminal case to juvenile court within 30 days.

Lathrop said his amendment would ensure juveniles are able to receive rehabilitative services sooner.

“It is in the best interests of the juvenile to have that decision made in a timely manner and to get [them] into juvenile court and start the rehabilitation process,” he said.

Following the 38-1 adoption of the Lathrop amendment, senators voted to advance LB307 to final reading by a voice vote.

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