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Report: Juveniles need protection in interrogation

Why would you admit to a crime that you didn't commit? It may seem counter-intuitive, but a growing number of young people implicated in juvenile crimes are being coerced into confessing by unscrupulous law enforcement officers, according to recently released information. Statistics show that young people, who are far more impressionable, are more likely to admit to crimes in which they were not involved. Further, nearly 40 percent of exonerations for youth under age 18 in California and elsewhere involve false confessions; that contrasts sharply with the 11 percent rate for adults.

Young people are, indeed, more likely to confess to crimes they did not commit because they are impulsive and more focused on immediate gratification. For example, a juvenile defendant might feel relieved that he could go home if he could simply confess to the charges he faces. It may be that the 16-year-old who confessed to driving a getaway car in a fatal Los Angeles shooting in 2011 was feeling such pressure. He admitted that he had been involved in the incident, even though video evidence from the defense proved that the teen and his friends had been miles away from the scene at the time of the shooting.

Juvenile defendants tend to be more respectful of authority in the interrogation room, even if they seem wild and defiant in other situations. This makes them particularly vulnerable to suggestion. Surprisingly, the International Association of Chiefs of Police had not issued recommendations on interrogations involving young defendants until this year. Now, guidelines exist to prevent mistreatment of the defendants. Officers should consider taping their interviews, avoiding long interrogations and leading questions, and eliminate promises of leniency from their techniques.

Young defendants deserve more protection during criminal proceedings because of their limited capacity. These individuals should not be subjected to the same intense techniques used to interrogate developmentally advanced adults.

Source: online.wsj.com, "False Confessions Dog Teens" Zusha Elinson, Sep. 08, 2013

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Former Criminal Prosecutor With Proven Results