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Miranda v Arizona, 384 US 436, was decided 45 years ago and continues to be the subject of controversy.  Most recently in the case of JDB v North Carolina, 2011 WL 2369508, decided by the US Supreme Court in June of this year the court took a look at what rights “children” have that involve “in custody” questioning.

In this case, a 13 year old was suspected of a burglary.  Two officers and two school administrators interrogated the boy intensely for 30 minutes; ultimately he confessed and was prosecuted.  His attorney challenged the confession on the grounds that he had not been given his Miranda rights. The prosecutor readily admitted so, but claimed that the boy was never under arrest and was free to leave at any time during the interrogation.  The boy’s attorney argued that due to the totality of the circumstances the boy was “in custody” for purposed of Miranda.

The US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that children are not “miniature adults” and must be treated differently from adults by law enforcement when evaluating whether or not Miranda warning should be given.

The Court went on to say that a child’s age would affect how a reasonable person, i.e. the child, would perceive whether or not they were free to leave, whereas an adult would understand that they could leave at any time.

What to do?  Why take a chance on having a court throw out a confession?  The younger the child the greater the need to give the child Miranda warnings whether you consider them “in custody” or not, in order to protect any potential confession.  The older the child, the lesser the need.  As always, it is ultimately a judgment call to be made by the officer at the scene.


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