Juveniles who have been taken into custody in connection with a criminal charge present special procedural issues. Ideally, a parent or guardian has to be present before the police can question them. Alternatively, the police have to show that they used their best efforts to contact a parent or guardian before any questioning can occur. The purpose of this is so that the parent or guardian can assist the juvenile in making an intelligent and informed decision concerning whether to waive their Miranda rights and respond to questions asked by law enforcement. State v. AA, which our Supreme Court decided in January, 2020, expands the protections afforded juveniles concerning this very sensitive issue.
The two questions before the Court were as follows: Whether law enforcement engaged in the functional equivalent of interrogation when they permitted the juvenile’s mother, who had been called to the police station, to speak with her 15-year-old son who was in custody before the police had read the juvenile his Miranda rights; and Did the fact that AA and his mother had no privacy during their conversation necessitate the adoption of a “private consultation” rule requiring the police to give the juvenile and the adult a meaningful opportunity to speak privately before asking the juvenile whether they wish to waive their Miranda rights?
The Court held that the actions of law enforcement in this case constituted the functional equivalent of interrogation; accordingly, the unwarned statements that AA made to his mother should have been suppressed. Further, the Court expanded the protections afforded juveniles by now requiring the police to advise a juvenile in custody of their Miranda rights in the presence of a parent or guardian before the police ask the juvenile any questions, or before the parent or guardian speaks with the juvenile. The police must then give the parent or guardian and the juvenile a meaningful opportunity to speak privately concerning whether or not the rights will be waived and questioning may proceed.
The Court’s reasoning was relatively straight-forward under the circumstances of the case. AA’s mother was called to the police station and learned that AA was under arrest for his suspected involvement in a shooting. The mother became very upset and asked to speak with AA. The officer involved should have known that when he allowed AA’s mother to speak with her son through the door of the cell where he was being held without first reading AA his rights in his mother’s presence, it was reasonably likely that AA’s mother was going to ask him specific questions about the shooting, and AA was going to respond to his mother’s questions.
It is, however, important to remember that the failure to provide the parent or guardian the right to speak privately concerning whether or not to give a statement will not automatically result in suppression of any statements the juvenile may make. Law enforcement’s failure to provide such an opportunity will, however, weigh heavily in favor of suppressing any statements. Each case will ultimately be judged on its own unique facts and circumstances.
Generally speaking, a criminal defendant who has been charged or is being actively investigated should NEVER give a statement to law enforcement under any circumstances, except to say “I want a lawyer now”. That statement should terminate all questioning by the police. Contrary to what many people apparently believe, a defendant will almost certainly not be able to talk their way out of the situation. The officers are trained to elicit information, and are even allowed to lie to the suspect in order to obtain a confession. Instead of speaking with them, the suspect (or their parent or guardian) should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney.
James S. Friedman, Esq., is a juvenile criminal defense attorney who represents juveniles charged with offenses in all courts in New Jersey and New York city. If you know a juvenile who is being investigated or has been charged with a crime, tell the police you are hiring an attorney and call Mr. Friedman immediately.