Law Offices of Christie A. Leary P.C.

Fairfax/Manassas Criminal & Personal Injury Blog

The criminal justice system in the United States takes an inconsistent approach when dealing with juvenile offenders. In some cases, juveniles are correctly treated as less mature and therefore less culpable than adults. As such, their sentences seek more to reform and rehabilitate than to punish. In other cases, juveniles who have committed very serious crimes are charged as adults, even though they are not yet considered mature enough to vote or to serve on a jury.

The fact of the matter is that juvenile offenders and suspects are distinctly different from adults and need to be treated differently at every step in the criminal justice process. This includes the interrogation techniques used on juvenile suspects.

The Innocence Project and other advocacy groups have discovered that many wrongful convictions are based on false confessions given by defendants. An exoneration review conducted in 2006 found that between 1989 and 2004, about 13 percent of adult wrongful convictions, which later resulted in exoneration, were based on false confessions. For juveniles, that number was 42 percent. The younger the juvenile, the more likely they were to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

In many cases, these kids are “confessing” to serious offenses like rape and murder. Why is this? Juveniles are likely to falsely confess to crimes because:

  • They may view all adults as authority figures and fail to appreciate the difference between parents/teachers and police
  • They may not understand their rights, including the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent
  • They may have been threatened, assaulted, intimidated or lied to by police officers in the interrogation room
  • During adolescence, individuals are more likely to seek short-term gains (like ending an uncomfortable interrogation) without considering the long-term consequences of their actions

When juvenile suspects give a false confession, the end result is often a wrongful conviction followed by decades in prison. This is an outcome that the criminal justice system should never allow to happen. No matter what the circumstances, juvenile offenders should have an experienced criminal defense attorney by their side before answering any questions in order to better ensure that they do not utter a false confession.

Source: Pacific Standard, "How Can We Prevent False Confessions From Kids and Teenagers?," Lauren Kirchner, June 17, 2014

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