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Supreme Court says age matters when it comes to Miranda rights

The Supreme Court has drawn a legal line between what a "reasonable" person would think and what a "reasonable" youth might think when being interviewed by law enforcement for a juvenile crime. In a narrow vote, the high court ruled that police must take the age of a suspect into consideration before questioning them, a ruling that could affect youth in Virginia and throughout the country.

Before the case was brought to the Supreme Court, police officers could compare a person of any age to a "reasonable standard." If a law enforcement official determined that a "reasonable" individual felt he or she was in custody at the time of questioning, the officer would be required to read the Miranda rights - a statement that lets suspects know that they have the rights to be silent and to hire a lawyer.

The court agreed that age can play a role in whether a suspect feels he or she is in custody and that police must consider that age difference. Should a juvenile feel that he or she is being forced to talk, an officer must precede any conversation by reading the youth the Miranda rights.

The North Carolina case surrounded the police interview of a 13-year-old boy who was removed from his middle school classroom and interrogated by several adults, including a police detective. No Miranda rights were read, although the boy confessed to neighborhood theft. An attempt by the boy's lawyer to strike the juvenile's statements from court failed and was denied again on appeal.

The Supreme Court did not decide whether the 13-year-old should have been read his Miranda rights - the case was passed down to a North Carolina court. Instead, the Supreme Court provided guidelines for police and lower courts that legal experts say will likely result in more Miranda rights being read.

Source: Kansas City Star, "Youth is an issue for Miranda rights, Supreme Court rules," Barbara Barrett, 16 June 2011

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