Thursday, June 16, 2011
The Court in a 5-4 opinion in J. D. B. v. North Carolina today remanded the case to the state court instructing that a suspect's age - - - 13 - - - can be considered for purposes of determing whether a suspect is "in custody" for Miranda purposes. The other facts in the case include police officers going to the suspect's middle school rather than his home and the suspect being in a room with school officials and law enforcement. Writing for the Court, Justice Sotomayor states, "It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave. Seeing noreason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, we hold that a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis."
The precise issue had been broached but ultimately left open by a previous case, Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U. S. 652 (2004) because that case was decided under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1), standard requiring the decision to be an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Court, before it would be subject to constitutional remedy.
Sotomayor, joined by Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, held that so long as the child’s age was known to the officer, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer, including age in the custody analysis is consistent with the Miranda test’s objective nature. This does not mean that a child’s age will be a determinative, or even a significant, factor in every case, but it is a reality that courts cannot ignore. Most of the arguments in the case concerned whether "age" was an objective or subjective consideration. Any subjective consideration, of course, would not only undermine the supposedly objective nature of Miranda, but would also mark the beginning of a slippery slope into considerations of other factors, such as a suspect's mental capacities. Sotomayor' opinion avers:
Though the State and the dissent worry about gradations among children of different ages, that concern cannot justify ignoring a child’s age altogether. Just as police officers are competent to account for other objective circumstances that are a matter of degreesuch as the length of questioning or the number of officerspresent, so too are they competent to evaluate the effect of relative age. . . . The same is true of judges, including those whose childhoods have long since passed. In short,officers and judges need no imaginative powers, knowledge of devel-opmental psychology, training in cognitive science, or expertise in social and cultural anthropology to account for a child’s age. They simply need the common sense to know that a 7-year-old is not a 13-year-old and neither is an adult.
The Court also decided another Criminal Procedure case today: Davis v. United States. Davis involved the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule and the Court ruled it was applicable. The problem in Davis was that the police officers relied in good faith on the constitutionality of the procedure that was later deemed unconstitutional.
However, JDB is a decision worth noting beyond the Criminal Procedure realm because of what it says about the Court's approach to children's rights. For the majority, it seems evident that there are very real differences between children and adults and failing to recognize those differences results in a denial to minors of the "procedural safeguards" - - - constitutional rights - - -afforded adults.
[image: Police Officer and Child, Lexington, North Carolina, via]