Kids Waive the Darndest Constitutional Rights: The Impact of J.D.B. V. North Carolina on Juvenile Interrogation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Children are brought up to memorize the number 9-1-1. They are told that the police will help them if they are ever in trouble. Children carry this fundamental advice throughout their childhood, and do not always realize that blind trust in law enforcement can leave them vulnerable to coerced confessions. During police interrogations, compliant children, brought up to respect law enforcement, can forget or be unaware of their interests and therefore waive the right to be silent. More problematic, there is the risk that children will simply state what they think authority figures want to hear, hungry to please these role models who are actually trying to extract information for a conviction. Courts and legislatures must recognize these risks and be mindful that, due to their age and special susceptibilities, children may not have the ability to exercise their privileges against self-incrimination.

In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court detailed the prophylactic measures necessary to protect persons' Fifth Amendment rights. (1) However, since that decision, advocates have worried that the intent behind Miranda is sometimes lost in juvenile cases because the generalized Miranda warnings do not recognize that children are psychologically and socially different from adults. (2) The Supreme Court's recent decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina attempted to address these concerns by determining that a suspect's age impacts whether or not he feels free to leave--the test for Miranda custody. (3) The holding makes it significantly more likely that courts will find not only that a juvenile is in custody because of his youth, but that Miranda warnings were constitutionally required before any police questioning. (4) However, because the Court did not provide for any additional protections during Miranda waiver procedure, where most children are conditioned to forfeit their protections, it is likely that the status quo of children not exercising their Miranda rights will remain.

This Note argues that in order to safeguard juveniles' rights to be free from self-incrimination, the protective nature of parens patriae (5)--a doctrine which gives the State certain responsibilities to intervene and protect vulnerable children-must extend to police interrogations and other pre-trial criminal proceedings. Part I presents the background of Miranda in the context of the juvenile justice system and the Supreme Court's inconsistent acknowledgement that children are cognitively distinct from adults. Part II explains the facts of J.D.B., and the Court's limited holding in that case. Part III demonstrates the impact of police interrogation and how it affects a child's ability to waive Miranda rights voluntarily. Part IV argues that states' current waiver rules do not extend enough protection to children's privilege against self-incrimination. Finally, this Note concludes that the Supreme Court and state legislatures should adopt a two-tiered test for Miranda waiver in conjunction with a custody analysis to guarantee the right against self-incrimination for all juveniles.

I. FROM PAST TO PRESENT, THE COURT HAS GRAPPLED WITH THE QUESTION OF AGE

The Fifth Amendment provides the right to be free from self-incrimination. (6) In Miranda, the Court acknowledged the inherently coercive nature of interrogation and the risk that a suspect will feel unable to assert his right to be free from self-incrimination. (7) However, courts have inconsistently treated the significance of age when it comes to recognizing the coercive pressures of interrogation. Section A will introduce Haley v. Ohio, in which the Court considered age a factor in the pre-Miranda "voluntariness" test. (8) Section B will explain the watershed decision of Miranda and the extension of its constitutional protections to juveniles in In re Gault. (9) Section C will chronicle the sudden restriction of juvenile protections in Michael C. …