What is a Parent’s Role When Their Child is Being Interrogated?

University of North Carolina Professor Tamar Birckhead wrote an interesting blog post addressing the role of parents during juvenile interrogations:

The question of the proper impact and role of the parent arises most often in the context of the interrogation of juveniles.  A few states (including Colorado, Connecticut, and North Carolina) require a parent or guardian to be present during the custodial questioning of a youth by law enforcement (the specifics depend on the statute); in states where this is not the law, advocates have pushed for such an amendment under the assumption that a parent will adequately protect a youth from the intimidation and trickery that may be utilized by the police.

Yet, those of us who have represented juveniles know that when parents are present during interrogation, they can often hurt the defense case. Parents may inadvertently give their children incorrect legal advice.  They, themselves, can fall under the sway and pressure of the officer conducting the questioning.  Or parents may themselves pressure their child to admit to wrongdoing, believing it is the “right thing to do” from a moral and values-based perspective but without appreciating the legal consequences.

Over the years, I have spoken with parents whose children have been questioned by an unrelated adult regarding an alleged act of wrongdoing.  In some cases, the other adult is a police officer or school resource officer.  In others it is not a law enforcement officer but a merchant or neighbor, and the “case” is not likely to be referred to delinquency court.  Even so, there can be potentially significant consequences if the child admits to the conduct, from school suspension to removal from an organization or program.

Professor Birckhead goes on to discuss the advice she gives when asked whether parents should be present at juvenile interrogations. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer. Read the rest of the article here.

Prof. Birckhead also briefly discusses some of the ethical considerations that often perplex juvenile defenders. Personally, I can see how a parent’s presence at their child’s interrogation may confuse a defense attorney who is unsure whose interests they are representing. Should the attorney’s actions represent what he or she views as the child’s best interests? What if a parent insists the attorney takes a particular course of action? What if a child confesses at a parent’s urging, but against the advice of the child’s attorney? These are tough ethical questions, but as Prof. Birckhead notes, a child’s attorney should represent the child’s wishes even if they differ from the wishes of his or her parent.

Any thoughts on the proper role of parents during juvenile interrogations?

Alex Hunt

About Alex Hunt

Alex Hunt is a former Yale & Irene Rosenberg Graduate Fellow at the Center for Children, Law & Policy. Alex graduated from the University of Texas in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in government. Before entering law school, he taught middle school math at YES Prep Southwest in Houston with Teach For America. In 2010, he received New Leaders' EPIC Spotlight Teacher Award, a national award for teachers with outstanding student growth. Alex graduated cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in May 2013. During law school, Alex was Casenotes & Comments Editor for the Houston Journal of International Law, interned for both state and federal judges, and served as Vice President of the Health Law Organization (HLO). In addition, Alex has received the Irving J. Weiner Memorial Scholarship Award (for a year of outstanding work in the UH Law Center Legal Clinic), the Napoleon Beazley Defender Award (for outstanding work on behalf of children), the Ann Dinsmore Forman Memorial Child Advocacy Award, the Mont P. Hoyt Memorial Writing Award for an Outstanding Comment on a Topic in International Law, and he was a finalist for Texas Access to Justice's Law Student Pro Bono Award. Alex is currently in private family law practice with the Hunt Law Firm, P.L.L.C. in Katy, Texas.

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