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United States Supreme Court Strikes Blow in Favor of Juveniles Interrogated by Police

Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina, ___ U.S. ___ (U.S.S.C. June 16, 2011). In J.D.B., the Supreme Court held that, when determining whether a juvenile's statement should be suppressed under Miranda, the Court must take into account the age of the child. This is a substantial change from existing law, and assists in protecting juveniles from law enforcement overreaching.

In Miranda, the United States Supreme Court held that certain admonitions must be given to suspects who are subjected to custodial interrogation. The required admonitions include telling the suspect that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say can and will be used against them in court, that they have the right to an attorney and that, if they can't afford one, an attorney will be appointed for them.

In order for Miranda to apply, two factors must be present: (1) the person must be in custody; and (2) the person must be subjected to interrogation. A person is in custody if a reasonable person under the same circumstances would not feel free to leave. Traditionally, the Miranda custody analysis has been completely objective. That means that the analysis focuses on what a reasonable person would think in those circumstances, not what the suspect/defendant in the particular case actually thought. The Court applied the objective standard in order to provide law enforcement a clear rule regarding when the Miranda warnings must be given. However, in J.D.B., the Supreme Court changed course, holding that a court must consider a juvenile's age when analyzing whether a juvenile is in custody for Miranda purposes.

J.D.B. was a 13-year-old special needs public school student. Several days prior to the interrogation in question, police observed J.D.B. in the area where two residential burglaries occurred. The officers briefly questioned J.D.B, and spoke with his aunt and his grandmother, who was his legal guardian. Later, after finding out that a camera that had been stolen in the burglaries was found at J.D.B.'s school and was seen in J.D.B.'s possession, police decided to interview him again. A uniformed police officer assigned to the school went to J.D.B.'s classroom and brought him to a school conference room. The conference room door was closed, but not locked. Present in the room were the uniformed officer, the investigating officer, a school vice-principle and an administrative intern. J.D.B. was then questioned for 30 to 45 minutes, in the presence of the four adults. J.D.B., at first denied the offenses, but then admitted to them. J.D.B. was never given his Miranda warnings and he was never told that he was free to leave.

The United States Supreme Court held that the "reasonable person" standard that was applied in routine cases, but be adapted to account for the age of the suspect in the case where police are interrogating a juvenile suspect. The Court acknowledged that juveniles and the juvenile thought process are fundamentally different from those of adults. Accordingly, the Court stated that it would be inappropriate to apply a "reasonable adult" standard to juveniles.

If your child or a child you care about is charged with a delinquent offense (sometimes called "juvenile crime"), it is important to consult with a Las Vegas Juvenile Crimes Lawyer right away. A Las Vegas Juvenile Crimes Lawyer can assist in analyzing the facts of your case and determine if a motion to suppress or other motions are appropriate in your case. A Las Vegas Juvenile Crimes Attorney can also assist you in identifying appropriate defenses and developing the most advantageous litigation strategy possible to protect your child and your child's legal rights.