Do Juvenile Offenders Require Easier to Understand Miranda Rights?
No matter what your age, everyone in America has the right to remain silent and speak with a lawyer when arrested. It’s been over 50 years since the Miranda rights were extended to juveniles in the 1964 case In re Gault.
Even with these protections, many juvenile advocates say it’s hard to find a juvenile offender who understands those rights.
In Mississippi, juveniles are defined as anyone under 18 years old and have protections under the Mississippi Youth Courts. These courts protect confidentiality and typically hear the case as a civil proceeding closed to the public without a jury. While these youth court rules seek to make uniform protections and provide counsel to represent youthful offenders, often arrested youth will waive their Miranda rights. The concept of invocating their Fifth Amendment rights and voluntarily confessing can likely be a side effect of the stressful situation and needs to be evaluated.
A study by the Harvard Medical School in 2014 found that 52% of the Miranda warnings given throughout the country needed at least an eighth grade reading level for comprehension. In addition, stressful situations in a young mind have been shown to decrease mental clarity, where a juvenile offender may suffer from a lower IQ because of the circumstances.
Another study in 2016 showed the average juvenile offender remembers only one-third of the Miranda warning. There’s always the possibility that the youth being charged suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder making their academic ability impaired and non-relevant to their age.
Police officers, often with little psychological training, are expected to evaluate a child’s intelligence and reading comprehension level. In a case reflected on in the ABA Journal in 2016, a youthful defendant explained that he was very forthcoming with all his answers to police interrogation because he thought the police would let him go if he did so. When in fact, he was incriminating himself. His confession stood in court because the court ruled he was showing intelligence in his answers, but the case still remains that a juvenile’s rights against compelled self-incrimination should be protected and not taken advantage of.