Teenagers Routinely Waive Their Legal Rights In Police Interrogations

In an article in the NY Times on October 14, 2014, a study published in Law and Human Behavior concludes that teenagers ages 13-17 frequently do not exercise their legal rights to remain silent in police interrogations across the country. The study analyzed 57 videotaped interrogations. None of the subjects had an attorney, and were permitted to leave the room without making any statements if they chose.

The average age of the subjects was 15, and in half of the cases, the interrogator had a weapon. In 16% of the cases, the teenager was in shackles or handcuffed. 12 subjects were accompanied by their parents. The interviews ranged from six minutes to five hours, with the average interview lasting 45 minutes. 37% of the teens gave complete confessions and 31% made statements which were incriminating. It appears that none of the teenagers recognized that they had constitutional rights which they could exercise to terminate the interrogation. Some seemed unconcerned, slept, paced or made light of the circumstances.

Federal statistics reveal that 1.5 million teenagers were arrested in 2011, the last year for which data is available. Confessions can be very persuasive to jurors, yet how reliable is a teenager’s confession when he or she has not been advised of his or her rights and is feeling pressure to respond to questions by an authority figure? Studies show that adolescents tend to think more about the present, and less about long term consequences than adults. Additionally, teenagers may not realize that police officers sometimes lie during interrogations, including suggesting “facts” which they claim to know, which may not be true.

The research reveals that teenagers aged 15 and younger will often unknowingly comply with authority figures, and are more likely than adults to change their answers during an interrogation. In the interviews with parents present, this was a double edged sword, as some parents lectured their children and demanded that they tell the truth, becoming the interrogator and sometimes obtaining incriminating statements from their own children. Only a few parents remained silent during the interrogations. Some parents clearly believed that their parenting skills were being threatened and thus put undue pressure on their children to reveal all, to their childrens’ detriment.

According to the American Psychological Association, there should be significant protections for suspects, particularly teenagers, during interrogations, including:

Limiting the length of interviews;

Videotaping the entire interrogation;

Only permitting interrogations if the teenager being questioned is represented by a lawyer;

Providing specific training for the interviewers to reduce the risk of false confessions when the subject is impressionable, such as with teenagers.

Contact the Westchester County Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at (914) 428-7386 if you or a family member are charged with a crime or a traffic infraction, for a free consultation to discuss your case in detail, and your legal rights and options.