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Psychology, Public Policy, and Law

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Administration of juvenile justice, Children -- Legal status laws etc. -- United States, Defense (Criminal procedure), Juvenile courts -- United States, Police questioning -- United States


Juveniles are more susceptible in the interrogation room than adults, due to a host of vulnerabilities that put them at risk. Scholars have suggested that requiring the presence of a defense attorney during interrogations can protect juveniles from making an unintelligent waiver; variations of this type of policy have been mandated in some states across the United States (e.g., Illinois and California). The current study takes an exploratory, qualitative approach to examine how defense attorneys may act as a protective factor in the interrogation room. We interviewed 19 juvenile defenders using a semi-structured interview method; questions focused on experiences in the interrogation room, juveniles’ waivers of rights, and protections for juvenile clients. Eight themes emerged that fit broadly into three categories: Factors related to juvenile defendants (e.g., dispositional youth susceptibility factors), the interrogation process and system (e.g., law enforcement impact), and safeguards in the system (e.g., requiring attorneys). Data from interviews suggest defense attorneys are rarely present when their juvenile clients are questioned, highlighting that juvenile defendants frequently waive their rights. Defense attorneys are cognizant that juveniles are susceptible to interrogation tactics, and are skeptical of the protection parents can provide in this context. Overall, defense attorneys are supportive of laws that require juveniles consult with an attorney prior to waiving their rights or require their presence in the interrogation room, but raise a number of logistical concerns, and offer possible solutions important for policy (e.g., an “on-call” attorney, or ‘appropriate adult’).

Keywords: Juveniles, interrogations, defense attorneys, Miranda warnings


© American Psychological Association, 2020.


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