Washington, DC (June 16, 2011) – More than two decades of exonerations have shown that pressure from police too often results in people confessing to crimes they have never committed. There is no reason to believe that children and adolescents would be immune to such pressures; common sense tells us the opposite is true. Recognizing the potential vulnerability of a juvenile suspect who was interrogated by police and school administrators, the U.S. Supreme Court today held that courts must take a juvenile’s age into consideration when determining whether the child would have felt free to leave the room or exercise his right to remain silent during questioning about a crime.
The case is J.D.B. v. North Carolina. The majority opinion was written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has prior experience as a federal trial court judge and New York state prosecutor.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief in the case. Amicus Committee Co-Chair Jeffrey T. Green, and Mark D. Hopson and Stephanie P. Hales, of Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, D.C., wrote the brief for the association.
“The decision is a ringing endorsement of common-sense,” Green said after the decision was announced. “That someone’s age is relevant to considerations of whether they might feel free to leave during questioning is neither a difficult nor subjective question.”
As the Court noted, any police interview of an individual suspected of a crime has “coercive aspects to it.” Moreover, children often lack the experience, perspective, and judgment to recognize and avoid choices that could be detrimental to them and are more vulnerable to pressures by authority figures than are adults.
“I wish the Court would acknowledge the broader proposition that few people – even bad actors – feel free to leave once police have focused on them,” Green said. “The result of a broader definition of custody is merely that more suspects will receive Miranda warnings, more people will understand their rights and make informed choices. That’s a good thing. We all win.”
Jeffrey Green can be reached at (202) 736-8291.
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