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New California Law Safeguards Minors’ Rights When in Police Custody

On October 11, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law much-needed protection for minors who are targeted by police for questioning. Senate Bill 395 requires that minors 15 years of age or younger consult with a lawyer in person, by telephone, or by video conference before a custodial interrogation may occur and before the waiver of any Miranda rights.

Previously under California law, minors of any age could waive their Miranda rights. In a particularly egregious case that was cited by sponsors of the new law, a 10-year-old boy was deemed to have made a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights when asked by police whether he understood his right to remain silent by responding, “Yes, that means that I have the right to stay calm.” Remarkably, an appellate court held that his statement constituted a valid waiver of his Miranda rights, and the California Supreme Court declined to review the lower court’s troubling decision. Under the new law, that farce would not constitute a valid waiver of a minor’s Miranda rights.

This reform was urgently needed. As the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explains, children and adolescents “differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions.” A recent study of exonerations by researchers with The National Registry of Exonerations reveals the very real consequences of the critical differences between the thought processes of adults and children once ensnared in the criminal justice system. Of the exonerations from 1989 to 2012 that were examined, the researchers found that 13% of adults had falsely confessed, but a staggering 42% of juveniles had done so.  

Senate Bill 395 is codified as Section 625.6 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code. 

Sources: Senate Bill 395; Senator Ricardo Lara, Legislative Fact Sheet: Miranda Rights for Youth, Senate Bill 395; Gross, Samuel R. “Exonerations in the United States, 1989-2012: Report by the National Registry of Exonerations,” M. Shaffer, co-author; The National Registry of Exonerations, (2012)

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