“[E]vidence is accumulating that confessions by juveniles do not aid in individualized treatment…and that compelling the child to answer questions, without warning or advice as to his right to remain silent, does not serve this or any other good purpose.”

–  Justice Abe Fortas, United States Supreme Court, In re Gault387 U.S. 1, 51 (1967)

Juvenile defenders should be aware of how a child’s immaturity, cognitive limitations, or developmental stage may impact the interrogation process, especially concerning issues of coerced statements, false confessions, and the ability to consent or waive his or her rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that as a result of their youthfulness, young clients are more susceptible to police coercion than adults, and more in need of legal counsel while facing police interrogation. As recently as 2011, the Court held that age must be taken into consideration when determining whether a not a child subject to interrogation felt free to leave for purposes of the Miranda analysis. Juvenile defenders should argue this reasonable child  standard established by the J.D.B v. North Carolina opinion to ensure that their clients’ constitutional rights to a lawyer and to remain silent are appropriately protected. And, if abused, that their statements are suppressed. For more information on the reasoning behind the arguments in support of the reasonable child standard, see the Amicus Briefs in which NJDC participated that were both filed for cert and on the merits in J.D.B.

Northwestern University’s Center on the Wrongful Convictions of Youth offers a helpful interactive map showing the states that require custodial interrogations of juveniles to be recorded, the states that give youth an opportunity to speak with a parent or counsel during interrogation, and those that have special Miranda warnings worded specifically for young people.

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