New Law Strengthens Miranda for Minors 15 and Younger

This past year the California Legislature passed SB 395, which is designed to protect youth aged 15 or less from the pressure of custodial questioning by law enforcement and, in reality, from themselves. Under existing law, the same Miranda rights and standards for waiving those rights apply whether the person in custody is a 14- or 40-year-old. Effective January 1, 2018, this new statute requires that detained minors 15 and younger must be provided with an attorney consultation – either in person, by phone, or video conference – prior to questioning and before waiving any of that minor’s Miranda rights.
 
The new law, codified at Welfare and Institutions Code section 625.6, does not necessarily provide that a violation of the consultation requirement results in the minor’s statement being inadmissible at trial. In addition, the “Public Safety Exception” from the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miranda decisions has been incorporated in this law as an exception to the consultation requirement: if an officer reasonably believes the information sought is necessary to protect life or property from an imminent threat, there is no Miranda violation and no violation of Welfare and Institutions Code section 625.6. The new law does not apply to two categories of interviewers who frequently do ask kids questions about suspected crimes in custodial or quasi-custodial settings: school administrators and probation officers.
 
Even with these caveats,  Welfare and Institutions Code section 625.6 presents an interesting legislative response to the fact that most 15-year-old kids would simply be too intimidated by the fact they have been detained by a peace officer actually to listen to and understand the Miranda rights being read to them, resulting in exceptionally few kids of that age exercising those rights. The vast majority of research has concluded that a coerced or otherwise false confession is one of the top four factors – along with eyewitness misidentification, improper or unvalidated forensics, and informants – resulting in a wrongful conviction.

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