We are all familiar with Miranda warnings from watching countless police and detective shows. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, etc.” This warning is intended to protect individuals from making self-incriminating statements before they have a chance to speak to their lawyer. Waiving this right means you are willing to speak to the police. However, at what age does a person understand what waiving this right really means?
In 2011, a 10-year old boy was arrested for the shooting death of his father. Prosecutors pointed to the boy's violent history, including choking a teacher, stabbing his sister, and hitting an uncle. His defense lawyers argued that the boy was abused by his father, who was also the leader of a local Neo-Nazi group. Joseph was convicted of second degree murder, and sentenced to a juvenile detention center until he turns 23. Almost 5 years later, the case may be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the heart of the issue is whether a 10-year-old boy has the capacity to waive their Miranda rights. In a four-to-three decision, the California Supreme Court declined to review the case. Two of the justices wrote a dissenting opinion, asking the state to establish guidelines for how juveniles are to be interrogated. Justice Goodwin Liu, joined by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, wrote, “Consideration of special safeguards for young children need not await judicial action. Many states have found the issue worthy of legislative attention.”
In California, the decision of whether a Miranda waiver is valid for a juvenile is determined on a case-by-case basis. In Joseph's case, the police read him his Miranda rights, asking whether he understood, to which Joseph answered, “yes.” Joseph then admitted to the police that he shot his father in the head, as he slept on the couch after passing out from a night of drinking.
During the trial, Joseph admitted to shooting his father and confessing to the police, believing he would not get in trouble. Apparently, he'd seen a TV crime drama where a young boy killed his father, but was not arrested because the father had been abusive. “A bad father did something to his kids and the kid did the exact same thing I did,” said Joseph. “He told the truth and wasn't arrested and the cops believed him. I thought maybe the exact same thing would happen to me.”
Many are questioning whether a youthful 10-year-old brain has the capacity to understand what a Miranda waiver means. An opinion piece in the Huffington Post stated the decision to allow Joseph to waive his Miranda rights, “ignores not only settled research, it ignores the United States Supreme Court's clear constitutional mandate that juveniles' developmental status, particularly their impulsivity, poor judgment, and susceptibility to pressure, is relevant to their decision to waive rights.”
You have the right to remain silent and you have the right to an attorney who will stand up for your rights. At the Gorelick Law Offices, attorney Lynn Gorelick has dedicated her legal career to defending people facing criminal charges in the East Bay. With over 30 years of criminal defense experience, Lynn Gorelick understands what it means to fight for you. Contact the local East Bay criminal defense attorney who will stand up for your rights.