Where Are These Kids’ Parents? Ask The Cops

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Due process? Too good for children! That seems to be the attitude at police stations across the country. New research shows juvenile suspects are routinely interrogated about serious crimes without parents or a lawyer present.

The research, presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention last week, relied on 57 11698954185_02367aba3e_zvideotaped juvenile interrogations from 17 police stations around the country. In these interviews – 93 percent of which pertained to serious or violent offenses – less than a third of the 13- to 17-year-old suspects had a lawyer present during the interrogation. And only 21 percent had parents present.

“From a due process perspective, this was very troubling to see,” Hayley Cleary, lead researcher and developmental psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement.

Yes, these teens had waived their Miranda rights. However, “laboratory-based studies have shown that adolescents may not fully understand their right to decline police questioning when not in custody,” said Cleary. Teens may also “not be developmentally able to assert themselves when asked to consent to questioning and those vulnerabilities can continue into the interrogation room.”

Cleary believes (or at least tactfully says) that “we need more research examining why juveniles in particular are waiving their constitutional rights so frequently and confessing to crimes before they’ve obtained advice from an attorney.” But it doesn’t seem like much of a mystery. The reasons she previously mentioned – lack of understanding of their rights, fear or acquiescence in the face of authority – are perfectly sufficient to explain why a 14-year-old might answer cops’ questions in loco parentis or an attorney.

There seems to have been an interesting criminal justice bent to this year’s APA convention, including a symposium called “Stand Your Ground Law – Psychology’s Contribution to the National Conversation”. It was co-led by Stanford University professor Jennifer Eberhardt, whose below comments to APA members came the day before unarmed black teen Michael Brown was shot by white police officers in a suburb of St. Louis. From the APA conference blog:

Eberhardt discussed some of the research that has implications for “stand your ground” laws. For example, although research finds that most white people think that they treat other groups fairly and that discrimination is a thing of the past, her research tells a dramatically different story. In a series of studies, she has found that “race influences what we see, where we look and how we respond.” Understanding the psychological consequences of these laws is critical, she said. “People of color are finding themselves in a vulnerable position in public spaces,” said Eberhardt. “Children of color are growing up situations where they feel  that the state is not protecting them, that the state does not recognize their pain. As children, they are already feeling invisible.”

A few days earlier, the APA’s governing council approved a resolution recommending that all interrogations of felony suspects be videotaped from start to finish. Surveilling the police, said the psychologists, could help end coercive police tactics and “the problem of false confessions and wrongful convictions.”

(Photo of an interrogation room by Kris Arnold)