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The Miranda Warning: Readability And The Rights Of Children With Disabilities

By: Dr. Steven Imber
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Prior to 1966, the Supreme Court sought to define the Constitution's protection against self-incrimination with regard to juveniles, to the mentally impaired, and to psychological coercion by police (see Gallegos v. Colorado, 1962; Blackburn v. Alabama, 1960; Fikes v. Alabama, 1957; Chambers v. Florida, 1940). In Gallegos v. Colorado, the Supreme Court, "used a totality of circumstances approach but suggested that special tests be used for a juvenile because 'a 14 year old boy no matter how sophisticated 'cannot be expected to comprehend the significance of his actions" (Institute of Judicial Administration, n.d.).

In 1966, the United States Supreme Court consolidated its previous defenses against self-incrimination in Miranda v. Arizona (1966). The Court ruled individuals had certain basic rights and protections under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments against self-incrimination. These guarantees included the right to remain silent, the right to legal counsel prior to or during questioning, and the right to obtain legal counsel at public expense, if necessary. Although some have argued the Miranda Warning has unnecessarily encumbered law enforcement officials, last year, the Supreme Court upheld Miranda in a 7-2 decision (Dickerson v. United States, 2000).

Despite these rulings, individual judges and juries have remained as the initial determiners if law enforcement officials violated an individual's rights, especially in regards to juveniles and those with mental impairments (see Fare v. Michael, 1979; In Re Gault, 1967; Vance v. Bordenkircher, 1982; Cooper v. Griffin, 1972; Henderson v. Detella, 1996; United States v. Masthers, 1976). Two significant cases are In re Gault and Fare v. Michael C. In 1967, the Supreme Court extended the Miranda protections to juveniles with regard to police procedures for interrogation in In re Gault. In essence, the Court sought to insure that adolescents did not waive their Miranda rights due to their potential vulnerability by clearly stating three rights for juvenile defendants.1 First, police must give timely written notice "of the specific charge or factual allegations" prior to the initial hearing of the case against the juvenile (In Re Gault 387 U.S. 1 (1967); 1967 U.S. LEXIS 1478, at *29). Second, police must inform children and parents of their right to a publicly-funded attorney. Third, the Constitutional protection against self-incrimination applies to juveniles so the confession is "not the product of ignorance of rights or of adolescent fantasy, fright or despair."

In Fare v. Michael C., the Supreme Court identified several factors to determine the "totality of circumstances" when considering whether a juvenile waived his Miranda Rights knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.

This totality-of-the-circumstances approach is adequate to determine whether there has been a waiver even where interrogation of juveniles is involved. We discern no persuasive reasons why any other approach is required where the question is whether a juvenile has waived his rights, as opposed to whether an adult has done so. The totality approach permits -- indeed, it mandates -- inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the interrogation. This includes evaluation of the juvenile's age, experience, education, background, and intelligence, and into whether he has the capacity to understand the warnings given him, the nature of his Fifth Amendment rights, and the consequences of waiving those rights. (Fare v. Michael, C., 442 US 707 (1979); 1979 U.S. LEXIS 133, at *17)2

The Institute of Juvenile Justice's (1979) publication The Standards Relating to Police Handling of Juvenile Problems includes a detailed discussion about the rights of juveniles, relevant case law and associated issues.

Grisso (1998a) described two broad classes of variables courts should consider when examining the totality of circumstances: the circumstances of the interrogation and the defendant's individual characteristics. He sorted circumstances of the interrogation process into several time periods including: the days prior to the arrest; the time of the arrest; transportation to the police station; at the station prior to questioning; questioning; parent and youth communications prior to a waiver; and the description and sequence of the questioning process. Grisso also explored several factors pertaining to the juvenile in question including age, education and level of intelligence.

There is a growing body of case law that includes motions to suppress confessions on the grounds that a juvenile did not give a waiver of the Miranda Warnings voluntarily, knowingly or intelligently. Such case law has been identified at the United States Appellate, United States District and State Court levels:

. . .Continue to read rest of article (PDF).

Dr. Steven Imber is a Psychoeducational Consultant who serves as an evaluator and expert witness to attorneys in the areas of child custody, DUI, lead poisoning, educational competence, Miranda warning issues and special education.

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