By Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. You can follow updates related to Garrett’s book, “Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong,” at the book’s Facebook page here.
The Court’s decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina provides the latest window into the troubled world of juvenile interrogations. The Court ruled that police questioning of a thirteen-year-old boy about residential robberies, without giving the famous Miranda warnings or allowing him to call his grandmother, may have rendered his confession inadmissible. If he in fact should reasonably have felt “free to leave” then the questioning was not custodial, and the Miranda warnings need not have been given. However, the Court said that the trial judge should have examined whether his age was a factor when deciding whether he should have actually felt free to leave. He was in a classroom with the door closed and school officials present, not in an interrogation room in a police station.
But the Court described how a thirteen-year-old might very well not feel free to leave under the circumstances. The thirteen-year-old confessed in thirty to forty-five minutes. He was told he could not call his grandmother, his legal guardian, and that he would end up in juvenile detention. The Court called it a “commonsense reality” that juveniles should be treated differently because, as the Court has recognized in many other opinions dealing with punishment of juveniles, they are more “vulnerable” and “susceptible to outside pressures than adults.”
Not only are juvenile interrogations under-regulated, in a juvenile justice system that makes a fetish of confession, but false confessions are a deep concern.