J.B.D. v. North Carolina – Supreme Court recognizes Miranda warnings are different for kids and adults
Imagine you’re in a small, windowless room. The door is closed. A cop and your supervisor are there, staring at you, questioning you, demanding answers from you. Would you feel free to leave?
Now imagine that you’re a kid, the room is in your school, and the cop and your principal are asking the questions. Under those circumstances, would you feel free to just get up and walk out the door?
Children across the nation face this scenario every day when questioned by law enforcement. Many times teens will break down and say whatever it takes to get out of the room and will answer up when questioned by adults holding positions of authority when kids are alone and without a parent’s help and advice. The statements given by teenagers in such circumstances are often the most significant evidence against them in their eventual prosecution and the all too frequent nightmare of their juvenile defense attorney.
A recent opinion of the Supreme Court, however, provides juvenile defense attorneys with a powerful tool to fight back and more importantly gives kids a much better shot at receiving the same rights as adults suspected of criminal activity when being questioned by law enforcement.
The Court’s opinion in J.D.B. v. North Carolina, handed down on June 16, 2011 makes it the law of the land that courts must take into consideration a suspect’s age when deciding whether or not a child was detained for purposes of whether or not the Miranda warnings should have been given the suspect. This 5 to 4 decision is expected to have a widespread impact on criminal law in general and juvenile justice law in particular.
It’s the rare American that is not familiar with the Miranda warning, as it is ingrained in our popular culture. Even those who have never had any brushes with the law can likely rattle off at least part of it by rote.
The famous warning, which starts with, “You have the right to remain silent,” has its roots in the 1966 Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona. Miranda established as the law of the land in this country that police must affirmatively advise a person of their right to remain silent under the U.S. Constitution, when being questioned while in custody. “Custodial Interrogation” is the short hand phrase lawyers and judges often use to describe the point in time when a person’s words can be used in evidence against them in the criminal prosecution of their crime.
Since that decision was handed down, courts have struggled for decades to define what it means to be detained; to be subjected to custodial interrogation. One important result of that struggle has been the following test laid down by the courts in answer to whether a person has been undergone custodial interrogation is this: whether or not a reasonable person, under the particular circumstances of their case, would feel free to leave when questioned by the police authority.
J.D.B. alters this important test as it applies to juveniles, and only juveniles. This fact alone makes J.D.B. an extremely important case in the law of juvenile confessions, evidential admissibility and the requirements police must now heed in dealing with teens suspected of illegal activity. Citing common sense, the majority’s opinion delves repeatedly into how children are likely to respond differently when confronted by authority than might an adult. A grown up has a vastly different degree of experience and maturity than does a child and it is that simple and to many, obvious fact of life, that the Supreme Court finally recognized in J.B.D.
This decision is indeed supported by common sense. It is also supported by years of psychological research and empirical evidence. To paraphrase the majority’s words, children are not simply miniature adults and it is wrongheaded to treat them that way.
It is for this very reason that our country has adopted a separate system of juvenile justice. Children are not the same as adults. They react to things in a different way. We already recognize that fact inside the courthouse.
This decision demonstrates that jurisprudence is catching up with the idea that children do not suddenly become different creatures after they are arrested.
— Patrick Hoover, Esq. and Bryan D. Utter, Esq.