Juvenile Suspects, Police Interrogation, and When a Confession is (Or Isn’t) Voluntary Under Maryland Law

For an agreement to be legally binding, certain things must be true. Generally, both sides must have agreed to the agreement’s terms knowingly and voluntarily, free from improper coercion, duress, or fraud. That’s true whether you’re entering into a commercial sales contract, a marital settlement agreement, a plea deal, or an agreement to give the police a statement or confession (and waive your constitutional rights under Miranda v. Arizona.) In each scenario, the standard for invalidating an agreement is different. If the police or a prosecutor deceived your underage child to get you to waive your Miranda rights then, with the help of a skillful Maryland criminal defense lawyer, you may be able to get your agreement or statement thrown out.

Situations involving juvenile suspects are particularly complex and present unique opportunities to get the statement tossed, as one Edgewood homicide case demonstrates.

Three days after the victim’s death, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office arrested 15-year-old J.B. The teen’s parents asked five times to meet with their son, but they were turned down each time.

Two detectives informed the boy of his constitutional rights, then handed him a sheet of paper that discussed his rights. They asked him if he understood and he replied, “Not really.” The detectives re-explained the nature of Miranda rights, then resumed attempting to get the teen’s signature on the piece of paper. Eventually, the detectives coaxed the teen into making a statement, which the prosecution subsequently used in the teen’s murder trial.

The teen’s lawyers got that statement thrown out on appeal because the evidence did not establish that the statement was voluntary. In Maryland, determining whether a statement or confession was voluntary requires looking at “the totality of the circumstances surrounding that confession, including ‘both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation’ resulting in the confession.”

Judicial Analysis of a Juvenile’s Statement or Confession Requires Extra Care

The Court of Appeals has been clear that this analysis must be done with “great care” when the person who gave the statement or confession was a juvenile. Trial courts need to consider additional factors like the juvenile’s “previous experience of the accused with the criminal justice system, the emotional characteristics of the accused, … whether the confession was induced by police deception,” whether a parent or “other friendly adult” was present, and the length of time the law enforcement spent questioning the juvenile.

New Maryland Statutory Law About Police Interviews of Juveniles

Soon, Maryland law about police interviews of juveniles will change. The General Assembly passed a bill that says that officers “may not conduct a custodial interrogation of a child until the child has consulted with an attorney who is retained by the parent, guardian or custodian of the child; or provided by the Office of the Public Defender; and [t]he law enforcement officer has made an effort reasonably calculated to give actual notice to the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child that the child will be interrogated.”

If the defense can prove that the police willfully violated these requirements, then any statement or confession the juvenile made will be presumed to be inadmissible. This new law goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2022.

States like Oregon and Illinois have banned police from lying to juveniles during interviews. Other states, such as Florida, are considering laws seeking to combat police deception in interacting with juvenile suspects. Police have numerous tools they use with suspects, some of which have the potential to give the juvenile suspect the erroneous impression that, if he/she tells the detectives what they want to hear, then they will ensure that the juvenile gets leniency. In some cases, that leads to a child providing a false confession.

One of the best ways to protect yourself (or your child) from police deception in the interview process is by ensuring that there’s a skilled attorney representing you or your child at all times. The knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC have spent years protecting the rights of criminal suspects, including protecting them from being goaded or manipulated into making false confessions. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form so that we can get started working for you.

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