Fair Sentencing for Youth

 

   

Governor Brown signs SB 395, protecting children in police custody!

This new law will protect children in police custody, ensuring that they’re not alone when making hard legal decisions, like whether to give up their rights and face police interrogation. Senate Bill 395 will mean that police cannot interrogate children 15 and under until a child has consulted with an attorney. Read the new law here. “Everyone has heard TV cops rattle off Miranda warnings, but in real life, youth don’t understand what those warnings mean,” Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch said. “They especially don’t understand what can happen to them once they give up those rights. This new law will make sure children aren’t alone when making a crucial, complex legal decision.”

Long-established law requires that when police take a person into custody they must advise them of their right to remain silent before their responses to police questioning can be used against them in court (“Miranda warnings”). Until now, children of any age could waive those rights before speaking with a lawyer – even before their parents knew they were in custody. Children, whose brains are still developing, are less able than adults to understand complex legal ideas, and the ramifications of submitting to questioning by police.

California had allowed a child of any age to be interrogated by the police with no provision for counsel or contact with parents. Children have been allowed to give up their rights without understanding them. In a recent case, a 10-year-old questioned by police said that he thought that the right to remain silent meant the “right to remain calm.”

In its original form, the bill would similarly have applied to 16- and 17-year-olds, who also need this kind of help, but amendments limited the protections to people aged 15 and under. Senate Bill 395 is a step in the right direction, Human Rights Watch said, since California will ensure that young people 15 and under have the same constitutional protections as adults.

Human Rights Watch urged California’s state senate to pass this bill, joining many other children’s rights advocates and experts. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said that children’s brain development, specifically the area related to reasoning, continues to mature well into early adulthood. Children and adolescents “differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions,” the academy stated in its letter in support of the bill.

The bill may also help prevent children from falsely confessing to crimes they did not commit, Human Rights Watch said. People under the age of 18 are much more likely than adults to confess to crimes they did not commit. A recent study of exonerations found that 42 percent of exonerated juveniles had falsely confessed, compared with 13 percent of adults.

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