Top Court Releases Options On Criminal Cases

Jun 16, 2011
Originally published on June 17, 2011 10:58 am
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As NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports, the case of a 13-year-old North Carolina boy, known only as J.D.B., will likely change police practices across the country.

NINA TOTENBERG: Eugene O'Donnell, a former New York City policeman, prosecutor and now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says the case gives a real world look at how police operate.

EUGENE O: The investigator in the case took great pains to orchestrate an environment where he would not have to give the Miranda warnings. A lot of people think the cops are dying to take that Miranda card out and read the rights to suspects, but in fact, the police are very reticent about doing that.

TOTENBERG: Reaction to the decision was predictably mixed. John Charles Thomas, who represents the National District Attorneys Association, says it will significantly change police practices in dealing with juveniles.

JOHN CHARLES THOMAS: The pressure of the decision on people who do this on a daily basis with many, many people being interrogated is basically to err on the side of caution, to give the Miranda warning almost every time.

TOTENBERG: George Washington University criminal law professor Steven Saltzburg agrees.

STEVEN SALTZBURG: The concern here is that now you're going to have to take into account whether somebody is seven or nine or 13 or 16, and how does the police officer do that? And I think the answer is when in doubt, give Miranda warnings.

TOTENBERG: Indeed, recent studies have demonstrated that juveniles account for fully one-third of wrongful convictions based on false confessions.

STEVEN DRIZEN: The risks that when police use the same tactics that they do with adults on children, that a child will falsely confess are exponentially higher.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.