The US Supreme Court is in the midst of what could become a major
reassessment of the rules surrounding when police must give Miranda
warnings to criminal suspects.
In broad terms, the high court is being asked to decide whether
police may deliberately delay reading Miranda warnings until an
incriminating statement or evidence has already been obtained.
The court has heard three cases this term involving such efforts
by police. Monday, the justices take up a fourth. In Yarborough v.
Alvarado, the court will consider whether juveniles are entitled to
more prompt Miranda warnings than adults.
The issue arises in the case of Michael Alvarado, who was
convicted of second-degree murder for his alleged role in a 1995
killing in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Mr. Alvarado, who was not the
triggerman, was convicted in large part as a result of incriminating
statements he made about his involvement in the shooting during a
two-hour interview with a police detective roughly a month after the
murder. Alvarado was a 17-year-old high school student at the time.
The detective contacted Alvarado's mother and arranged for him to
be brought to the police station for questioning. When Alvarado
arrived with his parents, the detective denied the parents' request
to remain with their son during the interview. Instead, Alvarado was
The two-hour session was tape-recorded, but at no time was
Alvarado advised that he had a right to remain silent, a right to
consult a lawyer prior to answering, or even the right to leave the
police station at any time since he was not under arrest.
Arguments for Alvarado
Lawyers for Alvarado say juveniles should be treated more
deferentially than adults because of their age and lack of
experience with police. "The law has long given controlling weight
to juvenile status in innumerable legal contexts, including
interrogation because it creates a vulnerability repeatedly noted by
this court as requiring additional care and concern in police-
citizen interactions," says Alvarado's lawyer, Tara Allen, in her
brief to the court.
The California Attorney General's Office and the US solicitor
general have a different view. The key issue that triggers the
requirement to give a Miranda warning is whether Alvarado was "in
custody" at the time of the police interview, not the suspect's age
or level of experience with police, says Deborah Jane Chuang, a
California deputy attorney general, in her brief to the court.
Miranda warnings stem from a 1966 landmark case, Miranda v.
Arizona, which mandated that police must warn a criminal suspect of
his rights at the time the suspect is taken into custody. Under the
Miranda decision if police fail to give the warning, any statements
made to police prior to the warning must be barred from use as
But here's the catch: Miranda warnings are only required for
questioning done once a suspect has been taken into custody "or
otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way,"
according to the Miranda opinion. …