Anyone who’s watched a police show on television has a decent understanding of the rights accorded to those arrested: the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent and all the other protections given to the accused over the past half-century after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. Juvenile offenders often don’t have a clear understanding of what those rights entail. In 2013, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry concluded that Miranda warnings are “too complex and advanced” for most juveniles. The group recommended that “police and other law enforcement authorities should utilize simplified Miranda warnings developed specifically for use with juvenile suspects,” reports Governing.
The sheriff’s office in Seattle’s King County, Wa., has done that. Working with the public defender’s office and a community nonprofit, the sheriff consulted with brain researchers to come up with simplified warnings, which were tested in focus groups. “For the most part, we have always done the same warning for kids that we do for adults,” says Sheriff John Urquhart. “Kids’ brains develop slower. To be fair, we thought we should revise the warning so that they understand what their constitutional rights are.” Juvenile offenders are now told repeatedly that they have a right to an attorney, underscoring that the attorney’s services are available free of charge. They not only are told that they can remain silent, but are offered an explanation that this means “you don’t have to say anything. It’s OK if you don’t want to talk to me.” Urquhart says he’s getting the same kind of pushback that law enforcement has gotten ever since the advent of Miranda that no kid will ever confess with those kinds of protections. So far there’s no evidence that the new warnings are hindering cases.