Being handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car or questioned by seasoned detectives as a suspect can overwhelm teens and young children. Under these encounters, teens may not fully understand their “rights” and be pressured into a false confession, according to The Imprint-Youth and Family News.
California Senate Bill 203 was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September. The Bill extends the Miranda rights protections (the constitutional “right against self-incrimination, and the right to remain silent”) to minors 17 and younger. Minors being detained now have the right to consult a lawyer before being interrogated by law enforcement either in person, by phone or video conference, according to the article.
“No young person should make an uninformed legal decision, one that could cost 20 years of his life,” said Jerome Dixon, testifying by phone to the State Senate, helping the bill pass.
Dixon testified that at age 17 he underwent a 25-hour police interrogation without legal representation. He ultimately spent 21½ years in prison, according to the article.
“Those of us who value the Constitution, rather than a blind focus on securing convictions at all costs, are bound to support the type [of law] envisioned by SB 203,” said Chesa Boudin, San Francisco district attorney, at the hearing.
Now in San Francisco, before minors are interrogated, lawyers are required to explain to them their Miranda rights.
State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, authored the bill because he was concerned about juvenile confessions. He cited the infamous 1989 case of the Central Park Five, where a group of Black and Latino teens were falsely imprisoned for the rape of a New York City jogger. The 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds endured harsh interrogations and falsely confessed to the crime. The story was later told in the Netflix series “When They See Us.”
“Young people must know their rights, and they must not be alone when they’re being interrogated,” Bradford told the Imprint News.
Suspects younger than age 18 constituted 35% of all false confessions, according to a study cited by the North Carolina Law Review. Teenagers do not always have the mental capacity or maturity to understand Miranda rights or what giving up those rights means, found the American Psychological Association in their study, reported the Imprint-Youth and Family News article.
However, the bill was called “unnecessary” by some California sheriffs and district attorneys, who say it could make certain cases more difficult to prosecute.
Boudin disputed this saying the San Francisco office’s ability to prosecute crime has not been undermined by the new legal protections. Boudin noted with security cameras, increasing forensic evidence and electric data, prosecutors rely on confessions “less and less,” according to the article.
California and Illinois were the only states that required a lawyer to explain to youth 15 and younger what it means and the impact of giving up their Miranda rights. Other states are now working on similar bills to address police interrogates with youth in their custody.
California’s prior law extended Miranda rights protection only to those aged 15 or younger. It was scheduled to sunset in 2024, but SB 203 has now replaced it.