U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor writng on behalf of the majority in J.D.B. v. North Carolina found "children can not be viewed simply as minature adults." Justice Sotomayor was referring to a new subjective factor in determining if a juvenile is entitled to Miranda warnings.
According to Law.com, the high court case arose out of police questioning of a 13-year-old boy in connection with two home break-ins. The boy was taken from his middle school classroom by a uniformed officer to a school conference room where, behind closed doors, he was questioned for 30-45 minutes by a second officer, who knew the boy's age. An assistant principal and an administrative intern also were present. After the principal urged the boy to "do the right thing" and the officer told him that he could be sent to juvenile detention, J.D.B. confessed to his and a friend's involvement in the break-ins. The officer then informed J.D.B. that he could refuse to answer questions and was free to leave.
In her analysis, Justice Sotomayor acknowledged that whether a suspect is in custody is an objective inquiry. Police and courts, she said, look at the circumstances surrounding the interrogation and then ask whether a reasonable person would have felt free to leave. However, she rejected arguments by North Carolina and its supporters — other states and prosecutors — that a child's age, no matter how young, has no place in that inquiry.
A child's age, she said, is far more than a chronological fact. Laws and court decisions throughout history, she explained, have recognized that children cannot be viewed simply as miniature adults.
"So long as the child's age was known to the officer at the time of police questioning, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer, its inclusion in the custody analysis is consistent with the objective nature of that test," she wrote. A child's age, she added, may not be a determining or significant factor in every case, but it is "a reality that courts cannot simply ignored," reported Law.com.
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