Almost everyone in America—at least anyone old enough to watch a television crime show—has heard of Miranda warnings. They derive from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. The warnings are the admonitions that a law enforcement officer must give to a suspect before a custodial interrogation.
The Supreme Court summarized the Miranda holding in the following terms: the suspect “must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.”
But what if the suspect being interrogated is a juvenile? Should any additional or different rules apply? After all, our courts have often recognized that “delinquency proceedings in juvenile court are fundamentally different from criminal proceedings,” State v. Ledbetter, 263 Conn. 1, 13 (2003), and “‘adjudication as a juvenile rather than prosecution as an adult carries significant benefits, chief among which are a determination of delinquency rather than criminality … [and] limitations with respect to sentencing.” Id. at 14. Furthermore, it is now widely acknowledged that “developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.” Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 68 (2010).
Given the inherent differences between juveniles and adults and the differences between an adjudication of delinquency and a criminal conviction, basic fairness dictates that there should be an additional warning when juvenile suspects are interrogated. The juvenile (and his or her parent or guardian) should be informed that anything the juvenile says can be used against the juvenile in adult criminal court if the juvenile’s case is transferred from juvenile court to the regular criminal docket. Under Gen. Stat. §46b-127(a), such transfers may be automatic or discretionary, depending on the seriousness of the offense charged.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the question of whether such a warning is required under the Fifth Amendment to the federal Constitution. In 1991, in State v. Perez, 218 Conn. 714, the Connecticut Supreme Court refused to adopt a per se rule that a juvenile must be informed of the possibility of adult prosecution before the juvenile can make a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of the privilege against self-incrimination. The Perez ruling, however, was based only on the federal Constitution. Thus, as noted in a recent dissenting opinion, the question of whether our state constitution requires such a warning is still an unresolved issue. See State v. Castillo, 329 Conn. 311, 363-66 (2018) (D’Auria, J., dissenting).
In the 28 years since the Perez decision, an untold number of juvenile suspects (and their parents or guardians) have been misled by not being told about the potential “adult” consequences of giving a statement to the police. Exhibit A for this proposition is Robin Ledbetter, who was arrested at the age of 14, along with a 16-year-old male, in connection with the robbery and murder of a taxi driver. At the Hartford Police Department, Robin’s father encouraged her to cooperate and give a statement. He also advised her, inaccurately, that because she was a juvenile, she could not be held beyond her 18th birthday. “The police never informed [her] that her case could be transferred to the regular criminal docket and, if so, that she would be tried and sentenced as an adult.” Ledbetter v. Commissioner of Correction, 275 Conn. 451, 454 (2005).
Robin gave a statement to the police describing “her active role in the attempted robbery,” but denied committing the murder. Her case was automatically transferred from juvenile court to the regular criminal docket, where she was convicted of felony murder and other charges and was sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment.
Only one state, New Hampshire, has relied on its state constitution to adopt a per se rule requiring an “adult prosecution” warning. Yet a number of state court decisions have indicated that giving such a warning to juveniles is the best practice, and one that should be encouraged. Some jurisdictions already use preprinted Miranda forms that contain such a warning.
To promote the goals of transparency and full disclosure in the criminal justice system, the Legislature should enact a provision requiring that juveniles be informed, before to interrogation, of the potential consequences of adult prosecution. Without such a requirement, juveniles and their parents and guardians will continue to be less than fully informed about their rights.