Miranda Rights: Hurdles to Ensuring Children are Protected

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Michael C. v. Fare was a case concerning a confession by a child that was obtained through a police interrogation. The lawsuit made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1979. The Court ruled that for Miranda rights to be invoked, a child had to either assert the right to remain silent or unequivocally ask for his or her attorney.

The proceeding involved a 16 year-old murder and robbery suspect who was given his Miranda rights. Michael refused an attorney because he was suspicious that lawyers collaborated with the police officers, and instead asked for his probation officer. After his request was denied, the teenager proceeded to participate in the interrogation and drew sketches that were later used against him.

Confessions by children ought to be received with suspicion because of these youngsters’ propensity to offer false confessions. However, placing safeguards to help curb these fabricated admissions entails several hurdles.

First, Miranda rights are not automatically triggered. An individual does not have to be given her Miranda rights until the custodial and interrogation preconditions are met. The custodial requisite refers to the need for the individual to be in custody, which means that she must be in police control and cannot just walk out on her own volition. When being questioned by a police officer or other authority figure, it is natural for many, if not most, adults to feel uncomfortable to just walk away. The impulse to stay is likely even stronger with children. Additionally, a person must be in the process of being interrogated, not just having a casual conversation with the law enforcement agent. Knowing where to draw the line of when the custodial and interrogation requirements are met is murky, and much more for a child who may not have ever previously been confronted with a similar situation.

Meeting the custodial and interrogation requisites for Miranda rights to be invoked is not the only difficulty. Any statement that an individual makes prior to the receipt of these rights can be used against her. Moreover, even after being granted her rights, a person can easily waive this protection by providing information afterwards. So long as that relinquishment is deemed a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver, it will forfeit all protections.

Additionally, even if the child is provided with her Miranda rights, it is highly unlikely that she will fully understand the police officer’s statement. For this reason, in some jurisdictions children are given their Miranda rights in written form. Whether verbal or written communication is used, however, a child’s age and size does not indicate their level of understanding. Two seemingly interchangeable children may vary greatly in their vocabulary acquisition, learning disabilities, and confidence in asking for clarification when confused, for example.

Thus, unless all law enforcement personnel are trained on best practices of how to not only explain Miranda rights, but then also ensure comprehension when dealing with underage suspects, it is unlikely that all children will be able to enjoy the full protections afforded by this safeguard.

Please note: This entry is the first part of a discussion regarding difficulties associated with children enjoying the full protection of Miranda rights and some methods that might help improve this problem.


Photo courtesy of http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2166604/Do-pick-nose–Jimmy-Kimmel-interrogates-children-lie-detector-colander-flashing-lights.html.

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