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Supreme Court ruling protects rights of accused minors: Part I

Anyone who has watched a police drama has heard: "you have the right to remain silent." This speech is known as the "Miranda Rights." Since 1966, police have been required to read a suspect their Miranda Rights at the time of arrest. The goal is to inform a suspect that he doesn't have to incriminate himself by answering police questions.

We have often posted about the unique and often harsh way in which Wisconsin deals with juvenile crime and young suspects. A recent case before the U.S Supreme Court recently asked the question: should juvenile suspects be considered "in custody" and have their Miranda Rights read to them even if they aren't officially arrested?

The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled that the answer is yes. In a recent 5-4 ruling, the Court determined that juvenile suspects need to be informed of their protections against self-incrimination. However, the close ruling in this case shows that this question is difficult to answer, even for the highest court in the nation.

The original case involved a 13-year-old middle school student in North Carolina. In 2005, the boy was pulled from class by a school security officer and brought into a windowless conference room. He was suspected of committing some thefts and burglaries in nearby homes.

He was questioned by both police and the assistant principal, but was never told that he did not have to answer the questions. He confessed to the crimes, and his confession was later used against him in court.

The State Supreme Court ruled that the boy was not officially under arrest. Therefore, Miranda Rights did not apply. The U.S Supreme Court disagreed. Check back later this week as we discuss the Supreme Court's recent ruling and what it will mean for juvenile suspects here in Wisconsin.

Source: ABA Journal online, "Supreme Court Rules a Youth's Age Is Relevant in Miranda Analysis," Debra Cassens Weiss, 16 June 2011

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