A Proposal to Strengthen Juvenile Miranda Rights: Requiring Parental Presence in Custodial Interrogations

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

On October 31, 1997, eleven-year-old Nathaniel Abraham was at school and enjoying Halloween with his grade school classmates. The festivities ended, however, when members of the Pontiac, Michigan police department entered the classroom and arrested Nathaniel for first degree murder. Two days before, on October 29, eighteenyear-old Ronnie Lee Greene was walking out of a convenience store in Pontiac when a .22 caliber bullet struck him in the head and killed him.' Police suspected Nathaniel who, at the time of his arrest, had over twenty encounters with law enforcement.2 Once in custody, Nathaniel eventually confessed to shooting Greene and signed a form waiving both his right to remain silent and his right to have his attorney present during questioning.3 Prior to trial, however, Family Court Judge Eugene Arthur Moore barred the confession as inadmissible at trial, finding that Nathanial was unable to understand the Miranda rights as they were read to him.4 The court relied on psychological evaluations that placed twelve-year-old Nathaniel's mental and emotional level at that of a six or an eight year old.5 On April 1, 1998, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the confession was in fact admissible in court.6

After the appellate court's decision, Nathaniel's trial proceeded and received heavy coverage not only in Michigan but nationally as well.7 During the trial, news cameras followed the 4'9", sixty-five pound boy in and out of Michigan courtrooms.8 In the fall of 1999, a jury convicted Nathaniel Abraham of first degree murder, making him one of the youngest people convicted of murder in the history of the United States9 Amid the publicity stemming from the murder trial, jurists, attorneys and commentators have begun to re-examine the juvenile criminal law system and the constitutional rights afforded juveniles in that system.

One of the constitutional rights afforded juveniles and adults alike is the Fifth Amendment right against compelled selfincrimination.10 The constitutional protections afforded citizens in custodial interrogations were described by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona.11 One year later, the Court held in In re Gault that juveniles are entitled to the same constitutional protections as adults in custodial interrogations.12 The Court's decision in Gault followed decisions in Haley v. Ohio13 and Gallegos v. Colorado" in which the Court recognized that juveniles in custody need at least the same constitutional protections that adults enjoy and possibly more.

The Court deviated from this trend of evaluating juvenile constitutional rights with a view towards enhanced Fifth Amendment protection in Fare v. Michael C.15 In Fare, the Court held that a juvenile's request to see his probation officer was not necessarily an invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights under Miranda and that the voluntariness of a juvenile's confession must be evaluated using a "totality of the circumstances" test.16 A problematic side effect of the test is that court officials and police officers who are often untrained in even basic psychology must engage in a psychological evaluation of the juvenile to fulfill the ends of the test.17 Fare muddied the constitutional waters for juveniles in custody and for law-enforcement officials. The "totality of the circumstances" test the Court urged in Fare was intentionally subjective18 and leaves the various states to come up with their own formulations of the rule.

As one would expect, the way states have dealt with the constitutional mandates handed down by the Supreme Court has varied widely.19 On one end of the spectrum are states that have decided that a juvenile's rights against compelled self incrimination `can be protected only by the presence of an "interested adult."20

In the middle of the spectrum are those states which follow Fare, but also address Miranda's concern that the juvenile be effectively apprised of his rights. …