Miranda Rights and the Juvenile Client in Massachusetts: A Child’s Age Now A Relevant Factor In The Miranda Custody Analysis

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution mandates that no person shall be compelled in any criminal proceeding to be a witness against himself. The Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona understood that interrogation in some custodial circumstances is inherently coercive and ruled that statements made under certain circumstances are inadmissible unless a suspect is clearly informed of his Miranda rights and has chosen to waive those rights. Many are familiar with the Miranda Rule and its application over the years but how has the rule been applied to the juvenile client in the past and what has the United States Supreme Court done recently to clarify the Miranda Rule as it pertains to juvenile custodial interrogation?

The Supreme Court has already held that the Miranda protections do apply in juvenile cases. (See In Re Gault, 387 U.S.1 (1967)). Indeed, in Massachusetts, in the case of Commonwealth v. Juvenile, 389 Mass.128 (1983) the Supreme Judicial Court set the burden on the prosecution to prove that a statement made by a juvenile was both a knowing and intelligent waiver of the Miranda Rule. The court recognized that juveniles are quite different from adults in terms of both their full possession of their senses and their ability to recognize the consequences of making an admission to police.

In order for Miranda to apply in a juvenile case that client must be in custody. Also, the client must have been interrogated or experienced the functional equivalent of interrogation. In Massachusetts, if the juvenile is under 14 years of age, an interested adult must have been present during the interrogation. If over 14 years of age, the juvenile must have had a meaningful or genuine opportunity to consult with an interested adult. Finally, in all circumstances, there must have been a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of Miranda’s protections. Our courts look to the totality of the circumstances to determine if there was a proper waiver of Miranda in a given case.

On June 16, 2001 the United States Supreme Court, in the case of J. D. B., PETITIONER v. NORTH CAROLINA, answered the question of whether the age of a child subjected to police questioning is relevant to the custody analysis set out in Miranda v. Arizona. The court acknowledged that 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. Seeing no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, the Supreme Court ruled that a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis. For a helpful explaination of the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case please view the following video:  


The court clearly stated that as long as the child’s age was known to the officer at the time of police questioning, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer, its inclusion in the custody analysis is consistent with the objective nature of the Miranda analysis. The Supreme Court did not rule that a child’s age will be a determinative, or even a significant, factor in every case but it is a factor that courts cannot simply ignore.

If you need an aggressive Boston criminal defense lawyer for your juvenile case who will use all the rules and advantages allowed by the court, please contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy, Esq. Attorney Murphy will provide quality legal representation utilizing the most recent cases in criminal law for the benefit of those individuals charged in the juvenile courts. Our Boston criminal law office is located at 11 Beacon Street, Suite 1210, Boston, MA 02109. You may contact Attorney Murphy by telephone at (617) 367-0450.

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