Study: Teens Are Not Well Equipped for Interrogations


Teenagers often lack the intellectual and emotional capacity to handle police interrogations, according to a study in the journal Law and Human Behavior.

Researchers examined 57 electronic recordings of juvenile interrogations from 17 police departments. More than one-third (37 percent) of teens between 13 and 17 made full confessions and 31 percent incriminated themselves, according to the study, which was recently featured in The New York Times and other publications.

Not a single teenager requested an attorney.

“Youth frequently submitted to questioning without a parent or advocate present, and disruptions to the interview process were common,” wrote the study's author, Virginia Commonwealth University professor Hayley Cleary.

But the presence of parents in the interrogation room didn't always benefit the juvenile, Cleary wrote. Some parents lacked legal knowledge and neglected to request a lawyer be present, some remained totally silent; others essentially participated in the interrogation process, according to the study, encouraging the teens to incriminate themselves.

The median interrogation time was 46 minutes, but they ranged from just six minutes to more than six hours in length. Outcomes included confessions, partially incriminating admissions, and denials of guilt.

When left alone during the interrogations, the teens displayed varying levels of stress.

“Whereas a few youth paced the room or peered out of the holding room window, most youth simply sat in their chairs, rested their heads on the table, or slept when left alone. Two youth wept quietly and another exhibited extreme distress, sobbing loudly, striking his head against a wall and audibly chastising himself.”

The full study is available for purchase HERE.

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