Supreme Court Offers Protection to Juveniles in Minnesota

The Age of Minnesota Juveniles Must Be Considered When Deciding Whether to Give Miranda Warning

Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling to bring the due process rights of children into balance with the rights of adults. Traditionally, the criminal justice system has treated juveniles and adults differently. The distinctions between the court process and penalties administered to children and adults arise from the differences in their maturities and their abilities to understand their actions.

In her opinion, Justice Sotomayor said police ought to have taken into account the age of JDB, a special-education student from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when they interrogated him regarding a series of break-ins to homes in the area. JDB, who was 13 at the time, confessed to police that he was responsible for the rash of crimes. An issue arose out of the failure of the police to read JDB his Miranda rights when they brought him in for questioning.

Miranda rights began with Miranda v. Arizona, a 1966 United States Supreme Court ruling that required the Miranda warning to be given anytime a person is taken into custody. The warning protects a suspect's right against self-incrimination. Officers advise suspects specifically that they do not have to talk with them, that any statements the suspects make to the police may be used against them, that they have the right to an attorney and finally, if they cannot afford an attorney the court will appoint an attorney on their behalf.

What Is Custody?

The Miranda warnings are required anytime a person is being questioned while in custody. Custody is determined by whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave the questioning. The issue in the case of JDB was whether the child was in custody and, therefore, whether he should have been read his Miranda rights.

Although Justice Sotomayor did not make a ruling as to whether JDB was in custody, she did say the determination of what constitutes custody for a child is logically different from what constitutes custody for an adult. In her opinion, she wrote, "It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave."

Appreciating the fact that some juveniles brought in for questioning may not understand their rights even though they could be facing the same loss of liberty as adults, Justice Sotomayor's decision brings the custody analysis into harmony with the other due process rights of children.

The Impact on Juveniles in Minnesota

Because the United States Supreme Court did not decide whether JDB was in custody, nor did it provide any specific guidelines for determining when a child is in custody, it is difficult to appreciate how quickly this ruling will impact children in Minnesota. The answer will be determined with new cases, as young children and youth are brought in for questioning by authorities. Police are now required to evaluate a child's age and sophistication when deciding whether they should give a child the Miranda warning.

This decision will be another shield for defense attorneys fighting to protect the rights of their clients. The cases that emerge following this decision will determine where the line is drawn between questioning and custody.

A Minneapolis Juvenile Defense Attorney Can Clarify the Law

Convictions for juvenile offenses do not go away when the child reaches 18. Not only will these charges be on the child's record for his or her entire life, but if the offenses are enhanceable, they may also result in stricter penalties if the child is subsequently convicted of another offense as an adult. If the crime is considered a serious felony, the juvenile's case could be certified directly to an adult court or handled through extended juvenile jurisdiction. In both situations, the child could face time in prison.

The law is constantly changing. Juveniles facing criminal charges will want the attorney who represents them to be abreast of the most current law. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will use new laws as they emerge to advocate for their clients.

It is important to understand how juvenile prosecutions differ from adult prosecutions. A Minneapolis juvenile defense attorney can explain how Constitutional due process rights can protect a child facing prosecution.