How old must a child be before he or she can understand the Miranda warnings? The Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of J.D.B. vs. North Carolina, dealt with this issue. The court, in this case, rendered a ruling that police must take a suspect’s age into consideration when evaluating whether to give the Miranda warnings before questioning the suspect about criminal activity.
The Miranda warnings are that the individual being interrogated has a right to remain silent, a right to counsel, that any statement may be used as evidence against him and, if he or she can’t afford an attorney, an attorney will be appointed.
The Facts of J.D.B. vs. North Carolina
J.D.B. was a thirteen-year-old seventh grader. He was found near the site of home break-ins. He was questioned by the police without receiving his Miranda warnings. He initially denied complicity in the criminal activity. In the end, he confessed. He was given his Miranda warnings after confessing.
The Supreme Court Decision
The United States Supreme Court rendered a decision that a suspect’s age should be taken into consideration to determine whether he is “in custody” for purposes of being entitled to receive the Miranda Warnings. In the majority decision, Justice Sotomayor states “it is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave.” She further stated, “a child’s age is far more than a chronological fact. It is a fact that generates common sense and conclusions and perceptions…we have observed that children generally are less mature and responsible than adults and that they often lack experience, perspective and judgment to recognize and avoid choices that could be detrimental to them”, and that they “are more vulnerable or susceptible to outside pressure then adults.”
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