Do “Miranda Rights” Need a Rewrite for Juveniles?

If your child was arrested, would they know their rights?boy

The fact is, juveniles in Florida can face serious penalties, and in some cases, may even be tried as adults for felony offenses. But it seems in many cases, they do not fully understand the rights they have when they are taken into police custody. Authorities may take advantage of that.

Miranda warnings, also sometimes referred to as Miranda rights, is a notice that is supposed to be offered by law enforcement to criminal suspects in police custody or in custodial interrogation prior to questioning. It warns individuals that they have a right to silence – that they do not have to answer questions by law enforcement. Officers rarely deviate from the legal language of the warning, though varying version are used across the country. But a number of cases have prompted juvenile rights advocates to argue for the wording to be updated in terms that are easy for juveniles to understand.

According to a recent article in ABA Journal (a publication of the American Bar Association), research has shown police officers do regularly Mirandize children, after the 1964 case of In re Gault extended the rights of the Miranda warning to juveniles. The problem is that most youth do not understand these rights.

The journal detailed a case involving a 14-year-old boy who was suspected of participating in an armed robbery that resulted in homicide. Officers read him his Miranda rights, and he proceeded to ask questions – a rarity among juvenile suspects. He asked what his “right to remain silent” meant. The officers could not explain it beyond the language on their card. He asked whether his parents could be with him, and police said no. He asked what it meant that anything he said could be used against him, and they told him he could get in trouble no matter if he talked or stayed silent. So he talked. His criminal defense attorney filed a motion to suppress, but the judge ultimately found the boy’s questions showed intelligence and therefore his statement was made willingly.

The ABA passed a resolution six years ago, recommending governments adopt a simpler version of the Miranda warning for juveniles. Since then, only one bill – in New York – has been introduced by a state lawmakers to do just that. The sponsor of that bill, Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, said it’s difficult to argue that juveniles shouldn’t be entitled to fully understand their rights – especially when they are facing charges that could have adult-level consequences.

In New Mexico, courts will not accept confessions from children under the age of 13 under any circumstance, and confessions of children 13 and 14 are presumed inadmissible, but prosecutors can rebut that presumption. For children 15 and older, courts must take into consideration the child’s custody status, age, language of the rights read and underlying circumstances. In Wisconsin, courts will only accept confessions recorded by police. In Illinois, confessions by children under 13 without a defense attorney present are inadmissible. Lawmakers are considering extending that to all minors.

A study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School in 2014 found that 52 percent of the Miranda warnings used across the country required at least an 8th-grade reading level comprehension. It was also noted that arrest is stressful, and may lower one’s reading comprehension ability by as much as 20 percent. On top of that, juvenile offenders are more likely to suffer lower IQs and a diagnosable mental health disorder, meaning their age is not always an accurate reflection of their academic ability.

Another study soon to be released by those same researchers reportedly shows the average youthful offender remembers just one-third of the Miranda warning substance immediately after hearing it read to them.

Too often, our Miami criminal defense lawyers know young suspects tell investigators what they want to hear, assuming they’ll be able to go home. However, those statements are usually only used to convict them.

If your child is facing criminal charges in Miami, we can help.

Contact the Miami criminal defense lawyers at Jacobs Keeley at (305) 358-7991 for a confidential consultation on your pending criminal matter.

Additional Resources:

Police routinely read juveniles their Miranda rights, but do kids really understand them? June 1, 2016, By Lorelei Laird, ABA Journal

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