State senator says juveniles need protection during police interrogations

Maura Dolan
Contact ReporterReporting from San Francisco

A state senator said Wednesday that he will sponsor a bill to ensure minors have access to lawyers during police interrogations.

A spokesman for Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said he decided to propose the legislation in response to a Los Angeles Times article about concerns raised by some courts about juvenile confessions.

"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,” Lara said.

Judges in three recent California cases raised questions about whether more safeguards were needed to protect juveniles during police investigations. The cases involved youths 10, 13 and 15 who confessed to crimes after waiving their rights.

People have a legal right to refuse to speak to police without a lawyer, but many experts say some juveniles are too young to understand that or to appreciate the risks of talking without an attorney present.

Juveniles are also more likely than adults to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, studies show. Experts said young people tend to think in the short term and may confess just to end an unpleasant interrogation.

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California Supreme Court Justices Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar invited the Legislature in October to issue guidelines or rules on whether some minors might be too young to understand and waive their Miranda rights.

The justices spoke out after the court voted 4-3 to let stand a conviction in which a 10-year-old waived his rights and confessed to killing his father.

Lara, referring to the justices’ dissent, said the 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.”

Those instructions “will say counsel must be present before an interrogation occurs,” said Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Lara.

The bill, which is still being drafted, is likely to stir opposition from prosecutors and law enforcement and support from the defense bar and juvenile justice groups.

Twitter:  @mauradolan

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