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Police Questioning of Minors

Everyone knows the iconic phrase "you have the right to remain silent." It's usually the first thing that police tell someone when taking them into custody, and it makes up one of the several rights - commonly known as "Miranda rights" - that people have when in police custody.

Police must notify a person of their Miranda rights before taking them into custody or interrogating them. The same is true of the police questioning of minors, but with additional precautions and requirements for the Miranda warnings. If they don't follow this requirements, they risk having a judge throw out any statements or admissions that the minor in custody might make.

Determining Custody

Determining the exact point when officers have taken someone into custody can be difficult. Obviously, an arrest constitutes police custody, but other situations can amount to custody even without a formal arrest.

To determine whether law enforcement have placed a person in custody, courts examine the facts of a case based on a "reasonable person" standard. If a reasonable person would feel unrestricted in the scenario, then they haven't been subjected to custody. If a reasonable person would not feel free to leave, then the police have placed the individual in custody and must notify them of their Miranda rights.

The same rules apply to the situation when police question minors. However, the Supreme Court expanded on the rules for minors when it decided that the police must take a person's age into account when determining whether the circumstances of a case merit a Miranda notification.

Facts of the Case

The case the Court ruled upon involved a 13 year-old boy possibly linked to two burglaries. A police officer went to his school, removed him from class and placed him in a conference room with the door closed and two school administrators present.

The officer didn't give the boy a Miranda warning or inform him that he could leave the room at any time prior to the questioning. After the boy admitted to participation in the burglaries, the officer told the young man that he could refuse to answer questions and leave whenever he wanted; the boy stayed and provided further detail about the crimes.

The Court's Ruling

The Supreme Court held that it was improper to deny the request to throw out the boy's statements to the police because he didn't receive proper Miranda warnings. The Court reasoned that because of their relative immaturity and lack of experience, children "cannot be viewed simply as miniature adults."

Since minors' comprehension of their situation differs from that of adults, their understanding of when a questioning constitutes a custody will also differ. Minors may experience more compliance to authority, and therefore may require Miranda notifications in situations that wouldn't trigger the Miranda requirement for adults.

The Court didn't decide that the trial court should grant the boy's request, but only stated that the court improperly denied the request when it failed to consider the boy's age. The Court ordered the trial judge to reconsider the question, using the boy's age and surroundings as factors in the decision.

Results of the Case

The case results in requiring more care during the police questioning of minors. Since the Supreme Court has determined that courts must consider a person's age when deciding whether or not that person was in police custody, police officers will need to employ methods that balance an interview subject's age against the other circumstances of the case, such as where the interview takes place and who else is present in the room.

The decision doesn't require a Miranda notification for every police questioning of a minor, but it does indicate that courts will scrutinize police interviews of juveniles more carefully in the future.

Concerns About Police Questioning of Minors? Contact an Attorney

If you or someone you love has been arrested for a juvenile justice offense, you'll want to understand if the laws regarding Miranda warnings for minors was followed. A good first step in the process is to speak with a criminal defense attorney who can review the facts of the case and be a legal advocate.

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