A significant bill has made it out of committee and onto a vote in the California legislature. If passed it would provide unprecedented and much-needed protections for juveniles accused of crimes in California. If passed, California SB 1052 would prohibit minors (anyone under 18 years old) from waiving their Miranda rights without first speaking to an attorney. Quick refresher for those who may not know: Miranda rights are the rights read by the police to a suspect, you’ve seen it in a million TV shows and movies (“you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you, you have the right to an attorney…”).
As the law stands now, if a minor is detained or arrested by police and the police wish to conduct what’s known as a “custodial interrogation”, a minor has his or her Miranda rights read to them, just as an adult. Under the proposed law, a minor would be required to meet with an attorney before waiving his or her Miranda rights.
The reasoning behind this is that there is now significant neurological evidence which shows that the brain function of an adolescent has less ability to appreciate the consequences of their actions than adult brains. Indeed, it is this reasoning that the Supreme Court outlawed sentences of life without parole for minors. As we’ve all been teenagers, this comes as no surprise. Accordingly, the proposed law recognizes that it is unrealistic to expect a teenager to make a knowingly, intelligent and voluntary waiver of his or her Constitutional rights without speaking first to a qualified criminal defense attorney.
If this law were to pass, it would be a landmark piece of legislation and a tremendous step forward in recognizing that children should not be treated the same as adults under the law at any point in the criminal justice process.
It is important to note that this proposed law is not actually a law yet, it just came out of committee and has yet to be voted on by the full legislature. Even then, the Governor would need to sign it to enact it. It is a long road. Yet the fact that this change in the Miranda rules are even being discussed is a positive step.