Do juveniles understand their rights? Maybe Not.
LANSING — Through TV shows and movies, many Americans became familiar with Miranda rights for arrested suspects, but how well do juveniles understand those rights — to remain silent and to have a lawyer, even if they can’t afford to pay for one?
Not well at all, some experts say.
An American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry study concluded that the Miranda rights are too complex and advanced for juveniles to understand.
Its report prompted police departments across the nation to develop and employ a simplified explanation for juveniles in custody.
In Washington state, for instance, the sheriff’s office in King County worked with the public defender’s office and a community nonprofit group to come up with simplified warnings.
Miranda rights go back to 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that law enforcement agencies advise suspects in custody about those rights before interrogation.
The Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice found that 10,728 crimes by juveniles were reported in the state in 2016.
John McKaig, who chairs the children’s law section of the State Bar of Michigan, said that when a suspect is in custody, “the police have to give you your Miranda warnings and tell you what you’re being charged with.”
McKaig, a lawyer in Mancelona, said juveniles “watch television, but if understanding their rights is a problem, the judge will understand that immediately and appoint an attorney.”
Lisa Halushka, an assistant dean at the Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School campus in Auburn Hills, said, in Michigan, “There’s no written law or legislation that suggests that the police have to jump through extra hoops in order to get a juvenile confession admitted. However, law enforcement officers — to the extent that they can — ensure that juveniles understand their rights.”
There’s case law in Michigan suggesting that courts look at additional factors for juveniles than for adults, said Halushka.
That position was confirmed by Bill Vailliencourt, the Livingston County prosecutor.
“The court determines whether the rights were properly explained and waived. It looks at individual cases and the totality of circumstances,” he said.
Vailliencourt is vice president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.
Factors such as age, whether an adult or custodian was present during questioning, the juvenile’s background, education, prior experience with criminal law, mental and emotional health are all considered in determining whether the suspect fully understood his or her rights and knowingly waived them.
Vailliencourt explained that the state Supreme Court has expressed confidence in the language outlined in the Miranda rights and has repeatedly upheld it as adequate.
In the case of juveniles, “the police have the flexibility to explain Miranda rights differently in different circumstances,” he said.
Asked whether simplified warnings make it less likely that juveniles will confess to a crime as Miranda rights critics claim, Halushka said, “That’s naïve.
“It’s human nature to want to talk ourselves out of a hole. Simplified Miranda warnings can help facilitate that process,” she said.
While simplified Miranda rights could be easier to understand, Vailliencourt said that raises concerns.
“I can understand why the police may be reluctant to tailor how they present Miranda rights in specific cases. The court could question whether the language used was appropriate. If it’s found not to be, the court can suppress the juvenile’s confession,” he said.
Will the state consider adopting new Miranda rights for juveniles?
Halushka said, “I can’t speak into what Michigan will do, but I would rather see well redrafted Miranda rights in compliance with the current recommendations, read in court and approved by a judge rather than having protracted hearings.”
The question of whether Miranda rights are appropriate for juveniles comes at a time when Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill seeking to change Michigan’s juvenile criminal justice laws by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18.
Supporters of his legislation argue that 17-year-olds are still developing mentally and, just as they can’t vote, rent a car or buy cigarettes, they shouldn’t be treated as adults in criminal proceedings.
The bill is pending in the House Law and Justice Committee.