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For Juveniles, A New Take On Miranda Court says young suspects need additional warnings

reprinted from the Connecticut Law Tribune
By THOMAS B. SCHEFFEYPolice, prosecutors and lawyers are taking a look at a recent Appellate Court opinion that holds that juveniles and their parents deserve to be “read their rights” before every police questioning session.

The decision, In Re: Kevin K., interprets the state statute that makes a minor’s answers to official questioning inadmissible unless made in the presence of a parent or guardian. The statute only allows statements made “after” the child has been advised of the right to counsel, the right to remain silent and that any statements may be used as evidence against him or her. But for how long “after” is that warning good? That’s a big question that this decision has started to answer.

The three-judge panel split, with Judge Douglas Lavine dissenting. He took the view that because the juvenile in the case was advised of his rights two days before the second round of questioning, no second warning was needed.

But Judge Alexandra D. DiPentima, joined by Judge William J. Lavery, wrote the majority opinion that Connecticut’s juvenile warning statute was “clearly intended to go beyond the protections afforded under Miranda.”

The reference was to the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona, which mandated a formal police warning against self-incrimination.

In addition to the Miranda guarantees, the Connecticut statute, according to DiPentima, requires that the warning be given in the presence of the child’s parent or guardian. Secondly, unlike Miranda, the juvenile warning must be given even when the child is not formally in state custody. This goes well beyond preventing an admission induced by coercion, suggestion and ignorance ? the focus of Miranda.

Connecticut’s juvenile warning statute, the court held, assures that the youth and the parent or guardian “made a valid decision to make a voluntary admission that was not the product of coercion, suggestion, ignorance of rights, or adolescent fantasy, fright or despair.”

Manchester lawyer Jon D. Golas represented the 13-year old juvenile, Kevin K., in the case. “For juveniles, anyone under 16, it’s a big opinion. Anytime an officer goes to question a juvenile, they have to read their rights,” Golas said.

Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney Raheem L. Mullins, who argued for the state, said he will ask the state Supreme Court to review the case and reverse this decision.

Golas, who practices with his brother and father in Manchester’s Golas, Golas & Golas, said the ruling will prevent police and prosecutors from “pre-Mirandizing” young people, and then, much later, gaining confessions more easily by skipping subsequent warnings against self-incrimination.

Intimidating Scene

In this case, Kevin K. was questioned by Vernon police officer Charles Hicking about a fire-starting incident near the Rockville Family Dollar store. Police questioned the youth in the presence of his mother, after he signed a juvenile waiver form and she signed a parental consent form. The boy denied lighting a fire.

Two days later, after Hicking interviewed another boy, he returned to question Kevin on Oct. 11, 2005, without advising the boy of his rights against self-incrimination or obtaining any new waiver or consent forms. “The police said they had him [making the initial statement] on videotape, which they didn’t, and they said they were going to charge him with making a false statement” because he had denied starting the fire, said Golas. “Especially in the light of the new charges, we felt that it was important that everyone be advised again about their rights.”

At the second interview, the boy confessed that he had previously lied to the police, and apologized for causing them trouble.

In his brief for the state Department of Children and Families, prosecutor Mullins contended the state juvenile warning statute is not ambiguous, and the Oct. 9 warning should have given the boy and his mother adequate notice of their rights against self-incrimination. “Further, the legislative history, the common law principles governing Miranda warnings, and the evolution of the statute itself elucidate the fact that the trial court appropriately applied the term ‘after’ to the circumstances of this case.”

Rockville Superior Court Judge Stanley T. Fuger Jr., in ruling on a motion to suppress the Oct. 11 statement, said he was unaware of any expiration date for the warnings. Under the circumstances, Fuger said he felt the term “after” covered the two-day time period between the warning and the admission.

Treating Fuger’s ruling as the law of the case, Superior Court Judge Edward C. Graziani found the boy delinquent on a charge of reckless burning and making a false statement, and dismissed three other charges, giving the boy six months of probation.

Focus On Awareness

The majority Appellate Court opinion said the focus of the trial court’s attention, in determining whether the warning statute was applied correctly, should not be on whether the original warning expired, but whether the child and parent were truly aware of their self-incrimination rights. In this case, the trial court’s focus on expiration of the advisement was “incorrect legally and logically.”

Lavine, in dissent, contended that the purpose of the warning statute was met when the child and his mother signed the waiver and consent forms Oct. 9, 2005, and that neither Superior Court judge had erred.

Lavine said that defense attorney Golas offered no case law to support the idea that a second reading of rights was constitutionally required. He said the state statue is ambiguous because it does not indicate for how long the police may question a person “after” a warning is given. In this case, however, Lavine said the trial court recognized the purposes of Miranda and the constitutional protections against self-incrimination.


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