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Legislation requiring right to counsel for older youth moves forward

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Parents wait for their children to be released after a report of a shooting at Balboa High School on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Legislation that would ensure all youth in San Francisco have access to legal counsel and a parent or responsible adult prior to a police interrogation cleared a Board of Supervisors committee on Monday.

The proposed ordinance from Supervisor Hillary Ronen would expand existing rights to legal counsel recently required under state law for minors ages 15 and younger to youth up to the age of 17.

Ronen proposed the legislation after some parents at Balboa High School said police prevented them from speaking with their detained children when a student discharged a gun on campus last August.

Under the legislation, parents would be allowed immediate access to a child in police custody and attorneys would ensure that the child understands their Miranda Rights without discussing the case directly to avoid conflicts.

SEE RELATED: Balboa High School gun incident highlights gaps in policy guiding police on campus

“I really feel that if we had this ordinance in place, we could have prevented what happened at Balboa,” said Patti Lee, managing attorney of the juvenile unit at the Public Defender’s Office.

Lee said her unit has counseled more than 100 youths ages 15 and under since Senate Bill 395 expanded their right to counsel last January. The office is prepared to counsel older youths under the legislation.

The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee moved the legislation forward with unanimous support from Ronen and supervisors Gordon Mar and Shamann Walton, who co-sponsored the legislation alongside supervisors Vallie Brown and Aaron Peskin.

“This is an opportunity for San Francisco to show that we are serious about police reform, the rights of children and youth, juvenile justice reform and due process for all,” said Ronen.

The legislation still needs the approval of the full board.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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