Friday, June 17, 2011

Miranda and Juveniles

High Court Expands Juvenile Protections:

The Supreme Court expanded Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination for juveniles in a 5-4 vote Thursday.

The case marked a rare expansion of the Miranda rule, which the court adopted in 1966 to deter police from coercing suspects into incriminating themselves. Because the Fifth Amendment prohibits coerced confessions, Miranda requires authorities to warn suspects of their right to remain silent, to ensure that any statement is voluntary.

The court ruled in the latest case that police may have to give Miranda warnings to juvenile suspects in some situations where they could question adults without doing so.

Put another way, the "obviousness" of the juvenile's age requires the police to go one step further and provide the Miranda "prophylactic" up front.

In this case, the kid was pulled out of his 7th grade social studies class by the school cop, taken to the principal's conference room where the principal, an administrative assistant and another detective were waiting. The door was shut and for the next 45 minutes the 13 year old was grilled about a suspected burglary by the two police officers and two administrators. After being threatened with incarceration and told to "do the right thing," the kid confessed.

At no time was he apprised that he did not have to answer their questions, nor was he told he could have counsel present, call his parents, or even get up and walk out of the room. The question in the case is whether the juvenile was being detained (which merits no Miranda warning) or was he in custody (which does).

The five (Sotomayor, Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan) assert he was in custody, the confession was inadmissible, and he should be been Mirandized. From Sotomayor's opinion:
How would a reasonable adult understand his situation, after being removed from a seventh-grade social studies class by a uniformed school resource officer; being encouraged by his assistant principal to “do the right thing”; and being warned by a police investigator of the prospect of juvenile detention and separation from his guardian and primary caretaker? To describe such an inquiry is to demonstrate its absurdity. Neither officers nor courts can reasonably evaluate the effect of objective circumstances that, by their nature, are specific to children without accounting for the age of the child subjected to those circumstances.
In other words, how many people go to a middle school to question a "suspect" without realizing the suspect is going to be a minor?

No one, except for the four dissenters, that is. From Alito's (joined by Scalia, Thomas, Robert) dissent:
Many suspects, of course, will differ from this hypothetical reasonable person. Some, including those who have been hardened by past interrogations, may have no need for Miranda warnings at all. And for other suspects—those who are unusually sensitive to the pressures of police questioning—Miranda warnings may come too late to be of any use. That is a necessary consequence of Miranda’s rigid standards, but it does not mean that the constitutional rights of these especially sensitive suspects are left unprotected. A vulnerable defendant can still turn to the constitutional rule against actual coercion and contend that that his confession was extracted against his will. Today’s decision shifts the Miranda custody determination from a one-size-fits-all reasonable-person test into an inquiry that must account for at least one individualized characteristic—age—that is thought to correlate with susceptibility to coercive pressures. Age, however, is in no way the only personal characteristic that may correlate with pliability.
Very strange. Ever since Miranda came down, the courts have wrestled with its application related to juvenile suspects (see also: West v. U.S. (1968); Thompson v. Keohane (1996); Yarborough v. Alvarado (2004), so I'm not sure how carving out age-related jurisprudence is "new" 45 years after Miranda.

Nonetheless, I would agree with Sotomayor's "common sense" approach to the question. As with several other juvenile-related questions the past few years, the court seems to be moving towards another juvenile rights renaissance after several decades of get tough myopia.

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