Juveniles who commit or are accused of criminal conduct are often victims of a difficult and unsupported life, leading them into a criminal lifestyle. In Massachusetts, juvenile criminal law is not designed merely to punish criminal conduct but to address the underlying factors that led juveniles into a criminal lifestyle. Because of this, juveniles accused of crimes are not to be treated as criminals but as children in need of assistance and support. Along with this assumption comes legal protections that prevent juveniles from falling deeper into the criminal justice system.
The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in a juvenile criminal case that demonstrated the strength of the protections that juveniles are entitled to in the state when they are accused of committing crimes. In the recently decided case, the defendant was a juvenile when he was stopped by police for allegedly possessing a stolen vehicle. When police started questioning the juvenile, he gave them an inaccurate name and refused to say his date of birth. Ultimately he confessed to stealing the car. Once the arresting officer ascertained his actual name and date of birth, questioning ceased, and the minor was given a citation and released.
At a delinquency action for the car theft, the minor sought to suppress his confession and other statements to police because he was not given the opportunity guaranteed to juveniles to have an interested adult present during his questioning. The prosecution argued that the minor essentially waived that right by giving false information to the officer and refusing to tell him his date of birth, and the officer had no way of knowing he was a minor. The motion judge agreed with the prosecution, and the defendant was ultimately found to have committed the crime and adjudicated as delinquent.