Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Suspect's Youth, Inexperience Not a Required Consideration When Determining Whether Suspect in "Custody" and Miranda Warnings Necessary

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Suspect's Youth, Inexperience Not a Required Consideration When Determining Whether Suspect in "Custody" and Miranda Warnings Necessary

Article excerpt

Police officers are required to provide Miranda warnings before questioning a suspect that is in their custody. The Supreme Court has ruled that a person is in "custody" if a "reasonable person" would feel that he or she was not at liberty to end the interrogation and leave. The Court prefers this so-called "objective test" because it does not place on the police the burden of anticipating the "frailties or idiosyncrasies" of the person being questioned. The issue arose whether this test should specifically take into account the youth or inexperience with the criminal justice system of a suspect because such individuals would be less likely in general to express a desire to end an interrogation. In a case brought before the Court, the suspect was 17 years old and had no prior history of arrest or police interviews.

In a two-part ruling, the Court first expressly excluded prior experience as a factor to be considered. The Court reasoned that in most cases police officers will not know a suspect's interrogation history and it would be too difficult to speculate whether a suspect's past experiences would lead a reasonable person under these circumstances to conclude he or she was not free to leave.

The Court acknowledged that the youth of the suspect was a harder question and that "fair minded jurists" could disagree over whether this youth was in custody, citing facts supporting alternative conclusions. …

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