Part III of the Children and the Law project deals with juvenile justice doctrine. In this area, modern courts increasingly have focused on differences between juvenile and adult offenders, often invoking research on adolescent development to guide legal decisionmaking. As the Introduction to this Part indicates, the Supreme Court has played an important role in promoting this developmental approach; in several opinions, the Court has determined that the immaturity of adolescents should inform the justice system response to juvenile offending.

The draft Sections on interrogation, §§14.20 to 14.23, reflect this trend, as will other Sections in this Part. The draft incorporates the rule announced by the Supreme Court in J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011), requiring courts to apply a “reasonable juvenile” standard in determining whether a juvenile is in police custody and must receive Miranda warnings prior to questioning.  Further, we follow the approach of many contemporary courts in invoking developmental research as a guide to applying the traditional “totality of circumstances” legal standard for determining whether a juvenile’s Miranda waiver was valid and his or her statement voluntary. Courts have found this research to be especially important in evaluating the waivers and statements of younger juveniles. Draft § 14.22 affords special protection by requiring the presence of counsel when a younger juvenile is interrogated. In general, the draft interrogation Sections seek to tame an area of doctrine that has probably generated a great deal of litigation. Our aim is to be evenhanded in describing the doctrine, but to capture a trend that promotes fairness for juveniles in the justice system.

Presented below is Section 14.2 from the 2018 Annual Meeting draft.  The Introductory Note and Black Letter text are included.  The full draft contains Comments (with Illustrations) and Reporters’ Notes.

Section 14-2. Interrogation and the Admissibility of Statements

§ 14-2. Introductory Note: Incriminating statements by criminal defendants play a critically important role in the efficient functioning of the justice system. Confessions are given substantial weight by factfinders, facilitating convictions; for this reason, law-enforcement agents are motivated to obtain incriminating statements from suspects during interrogation. But fundamental principles of due process, together with the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and Sixth Amendment right to counsel, create constitutional constraints on police efforts to obtain confessions.

The Fifth Amendment privilege is based on two principles. The first is evidentiary: certain confessions by defendants are excluded from subsequent criminal proceedings because they are deemed to be untrustworthy, the products of coercion in the setting of police interrogation. The second, more foundational principle, generally implicated in the commitment to fair criminal proceedings under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, defines the relationship between the individual citizen and the state in our society: The privilege aims to “prevent the state, whether by physical force or by psychological domination, from overcoming the mind and will of the person under investigation.” In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 47 (1967). In imposing this restraint, the privilege seeks to preserve some measure of equality between the individual and the state, such that the state agent should not be allowed to extract from the defendant the evidence needed to convict.

The Supreme Court has concluded that suspects facing interrogation have the right to remain silent and the right to the presence of an attorney to guard against coercion and to advise them in making the decision whether to exercise the right to remain silent. Interrogation cannot proceed in the absence of a valid waiver of both rights.

The general legal standard for evaluating whether a suspect validly waived the right to counsel and right to remain silent is the same for adults and juveniles—the totality of the circumstances. But many courts have recognized that the confessions of juveniles are more untrustworthy than are those of adults and that the “mind and will” of a juvenile is more likely to be overcome by law-enforcement agents when the youth is questioned as a suspect of a crime. Juveniles are more likely than are adults to make incriminating statements when interrogated and more likely to confess to crimes that they have not committed. These tendencies of juveniles are discussed in § 14.21, Comments c and h and the Reporters’ Notes thereto. Juveniles are also less likely than are adults to understand their rights in this setting and more likely to waive those rights. Research supporting this conclusion is discussed in § 14.21, Reporters’ Note to Comments c. Further, younger juveniles are particularly vulnerable and are more likely to give an invalid waiver and involuntary confession. § 14.22, Reporters’ Note to Comment a.

 The empirically based premise that juveniles, because of their developmental immaturity, are more vulnerable to coercion and less likely to understand or to exercise their interrogation rights has led courts to examine the confessions of juveniles with “special caution.” In re Gault, 387 U.S. at 45. Courts have recognized that the age and immaturity of juveniles are critically important to every aspect of the legal determination of whether a statement made during interrogation can be introduced against the juvenile in a subsequent delinquency or criminal proceeding. Because juveniles are more vulnerable and may be less capable of exercising their rights, courts often suppress juvenile confessions obtained under conditions that would not result in suppression of an adult’s statement.

Recent constitutional and legal developments have reinforced the importance of critical judicial scrutiny of juveniles’ statements. In 2011, the Supreme Court in J.D.B. v. North Carolina held that a juvenile’s age must be considered in determining whether a juvenile was in police custody when the statement was made. 131 S. Ct. 2394 (2011). This requirement is adopted in
§ 14.20(b). In J.D.B., the Court emphasized the vulnerability of juveniles to coercion in the interrogation setting and the risk of false confessions. A year later, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from imposing a mandatory sentence of life without parole on offenders under age 18 at the time of their crimes. 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). In describing why this harsh sentence is restricted for juveniles, Miller observed that juveniles’ convictions might result from their inability to deal with police and prosecutors, citing J.D.B. Id. at 2468. In 2016, the Court underscored the importance of Miller, holding that it created a substantive rule of constitutional law and therefore applied retroactively to prisoners whose sentences were final before it was decided. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. __ , 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). These opinions are having an impact on courts applying interrogation law. They are also part of a broader constitutional and legal trend recognizing that juveniles, due to developmental immaturity, differ from adults, and that the law regulating juvenile crime must attend to these differences.

Because juveniles may be less capable than adults of understanding their interrogation rights and more vulnerable to aggressive police tactics, special protections are afforded juveniles facing interrogation. These Sections provide protections that contemporary courts and legislatures have required in evaluating the admissibility of juveniles’ statements made in response to police questioning. First, as required by J.D.B., § 14.20(b) provides that a “reasonable juvenile” standard be applied to the judicial determination of whether the juvenile was in custody, and Miranda warnings were required. Section 14.21 applies the totality of circumstances standard to determine whether the juvenile’s Miranda waiver was valid and the statement voluntarily made. Although the standard is generally that same for adults and juveniles, for juveniles this standard must be applied in light of the individual’s age, experience, intelligence, and education. Under § 14.22, a special protection applies to the waiver of a juvenile age 14 or younger; the waiver is not valid unless the juvenile has had the assistance of counsel at interrogation. Section 14.23 requires that the interrogation ordinarily must be video-recorded in its entirety, as required by legislatures and courts in many states.

§ 14.20. Rights of a Juvenile in Custody; Definition of Custody

(a) A juvenile in custody has the right to the assistance of counsel and the right to remain silent when questioned about the juvenile’s involvement in criminal activity by a law-enforcement officer.

(b) A juvenile is in custody if, under the circumstances of the questioning:

(1) a reasonable juvenile of the suspect’s age would feel that his or her freedom of movement was substantially restricted such that the juvenile was not at liberty to terminate the interview and leave, and the officer is aware that the individual being questioned is a juvenile or a reasonable officer would have been aware that the individual is not an adult.


Elizabeth S. Scott

Reporter, Children and the Law

Elizabeth S. Scott is the Harold R. Medina Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Scott teaches family law, property, criminal law, and children and the law. She has written extensively on marriage, divorce, cohabitation, child custody, adolescent decision-making, and juvenile delinquency. Her research is interdisciplinary, applying behavioral economics, social science research, and developmental theory to family/juvenile law and policy issues.

Richard Bonnie

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Richard J. Bonnie is Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law Emeritus at the University of Virginia School of Law, having retired from teaching in 2023. He formerly served as director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. ­­He teaches and writes about health law and policy, bioethics, criminal law, and public policies relating to mental health, substance abuse, and public health. He has co-authored leading textbooks on criminal law and public health law.

Emily Buss

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Emily Buss's research interests include children's and parents' rights and the legal system's allocation of responsibility for children’s development among parent, child, and state. In recent years, she has focused particular attention on the developmental impact of court proceedings on court-involved children, including foster youth and youth accused of crimes. In addition to courses focused on the subjects of her research, Buss teaches civil procedure, evidence, and family law. 

Clare Huntington

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Clare Huntington is an expert in the fields of family law and poverty law. Her book, Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships (Oxford 2014), won an Honorable Mention for the Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) Award in Law and Legal Studies from the Association of American Publishers. She has published widely in leading law journals, exploring the intersection of poverty and families and with a recent focus on non-marital families.

Solangel Maldonado

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Solangel Maldonado is the Joseph M. Lynch Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law.  Her research and teaching interests include family law, feminist legal theory, race and the law, and international and comparative family law. Over the past decade, her scholarship has focused on the intersection of race and family law and the law’s influence on social norms of post-separation parenthood. She is currently working on a book for NYU Press that examines how the law shapes romantic preferences and how these preferences perpetuate racial hierarchy and economic and social inequality.


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