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Supreme Court ruling protects rights of accused minors: Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling which will protect the rights of minors accused of a juvenile crime. The Court recently ruled that minors who are questioned as a suspect in a crime must be considered "in custody" and have their Miranda Rights read to them by law enforcement officials.

Our first post focused on the history of the case as well as the fact that the 5-4 ruling shows how contentious this issue has been. Today we will discuss the ruling in greater detail, including how it will affect juvenile suspects in Wisconsin.

The reading of Miranda Rights was instituted in 1966 to remind suspects that the Fifth Amendment protects them against self incrimination. In other words, "the right to remain silent" is the right to refrain from answering any police questions which could incriminate you.

Some have argued that these rights should not apply to juvenile suspects when those suspects are not officially under arrest. However, Justice Sotomayor, who wrote the Court's majority opinion, said:

"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, we hold that a child's age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis."

Juvenile suspects are the most in need of a reminder about their rights. Children and teenagers are accustomed to following adult authority, which includes parents, teachers, school staff and police. Adults are mature enough to understand the difference between parental authority and police authority; children and teenagers may not be.

As with many Supreme Court rulings, this decision will apply to law enforcement in Wisconsin and every other state in the nation. This ruling will likely force police to inform a juvenile suspect that they are, indeed, a suspect, and to inform them of their rights against self incrimination.

Being convicted of a juvenile crime can seriously hinder a young person's future. It may affect future college plans or job opportunities. At the very least, he may always be regarded as a criminal by those who know him. Therefore, this ruling will help protect a juvenile suspect's future by informing him that he, too, has legal rights.

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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