SACRAMENTO, CA – Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) announced today his intention to introduce legislation to ensure youth have real access to their constitutionally protected rights, including better access to counsel. Specifically, this bill would include instructions to law enforcement on the interrogation of youth and instructions to judges regarding the consideration of the information gathered during interrogations.
“Our criminal justice system is designed to ensure justice for victims and due process for the accused,” said Senator Lara. “Unfortunately for children and youth, our justice system only provides these rights in theory. In practice the system is flawed and can and does result in serious disproportionate negative consequences for youth who have the same rights as adults, but don’t have the capacity to understand their rights or the consequences of waiving them. Currently in California, minors can waive their Miranda rights – no matter how young they are - and, they waive their rights even when they don’t understand what that means.”
Studies reveal that youth, especially those under 13, do not fully comprehend the implications when discussing incidents with law enforcement.
The US criminal justice system is designed to ensure justice for victims and due process for the accused. Our justice system provides that all people are presumed innocent until proven guilty and our constitution, through the Fifth Amendment, provides the right against self-incrimination, and the Sixth Amendment, the right to counsel. In theory all people are afforded these rights.
Most recently a 10 year old was found to have made a “knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights." Yet, when asked if he understood the right to remain silent, he replied, “it means I have the right to stay calm.”
Signaling the importance of this issue, California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu wrote a dissenting statement when the Court denied review of the case involving the 10 yearly old that could have addressed the matter earlier this year. The Chief Justice suggested the Legislature consider taking up the issue.
“There is a growing body of well-regarded research showing that youth are different from adults. Youth have different perceptions, different abilities from adults,” said Elizabeth Calvin, Senior Advocate for the Children’s Rights Division at the Human Rights Watch. “Over the last few years California and states across the country have changed laws based on the fact that youth are different from adults. Reform of how or whether youth can give up their rights is a necessary next step.”
Senator Lara plans to introduce legislation that provides better mechanisms to ensure youth have real access to their constitutionally protected rights, including better access to counsel. Specifically this bill would include instructions to law enforcement on the interrogation of youth and instructions to judges regarding the consideration of the information gathered during interrogations. This measure is necessary to protect the integrity of the process designed to seek justice for victims and ensure due process for all people.
Lara Added: “This is legislation that recognizes what science and the courts have made clear: Youth are different from adults and our laws need to reflect this difference. We have a flawed system that in some instances accepts that children are different, including their brain development and comprehension, yet currently accepts that youth of any age have the capacity to understand their rights and can willingly waive these rights without counsel. I want to ensure that we have a system where all people regardless of their age have access to adequate due process.”
The legislation will formally be introduced early next year.