Juvenile Waivers

by Charles Gillingham

With the passage of Proposition 57 in California, labeled the "Rainbows and Unicorns Act" by the former attorney general, many cases originally charged in adult court are being transferred back juvenile court. Interestingly, in the juvenile system there appears to be a presumption that even the hardened youthful criminals are somehow less culpable for their crimes and less understanding of their legal rights due to their age and nothing more.  It is important that officers, especially those taking statements from juveniles, remember that valid Miranda waivers and normal interrogation techniques are as valid today as they were in December. 



Remember there is no requirement that a minor be advised and waive the opportunity to speak to a parent or to have a parent present during questioning. If a child asks for a parent the court will look at voluntariness of the statement in determining whether the statement is admissible. 

Courts have consistently held that juveniles can give valid waivers and make voluntary confessions. The leading case dates back to the 80's in which the minor was 14 years old and had been involved in six homicides.   In In re Jessie L (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 202, the court found that "[a] minor has the capacity to make a voluntary confession. The admissibility of such a statement depends not upon his age alone but a combination of that factor with other circumstances such as his intelligence, education, experience, and ability to comprehend the meaning and effect of his statements."

The minor was advised of his Miranda rights and stated that he understood those rights and wished to talk. No promises were made to him. At no time did defendant request a lawyer, a parent, a probation officer, or close relative to be present.

Interestingly, in In re Jessie L, the defendant wanted to have the court notice evidence that was gathered after his arrest. Specifically, the defendant referred the police report of Edward's interrogation and the diagnostic study and probation officer's report for purposes of sentencing. Defendant contended that he was "functioning below his age level." The allegation was taken from the tests given for the diagnostic study, which showed that appellant was in the ninth grade and had achieved between the fifth and seventh grade levels on basic school skills. However, his I.Q. test was 89 and he was described as "of average intellectual potential" and "average intelligence." There was no evidence of psychosis or brain damage. The police report of the interrogation confirmed rather than detracted from the finding that appellant understood his rights. When the officer first started to read the Miranda rights, appellant interrupted saying, "You don't have to do that. I already know them." Nevertheless, the officer completed the reading of the Miranda rights and the juvenile questionnaire. The report indicated that during the interrogation appellant appeared very calm and showed no emotion regarding the murder, stating, "It just wasn't necessary."

There are a myriad of cases such as this where the defense argued that the defendant operated with a low IQ and below their grade level. Although the defense and juvenile "justice" warriors believe these issues have not been taken into consideration before today, it is clear these issues have been litigated for the past thirty-five years.  As an updated officer, insure that you take a valid Miranda waiver, do not coerce, threaten or promise during an interview with a minor and your statement should be bullet proof.