Interrogation Rules Involving Juveniles in Georgia
When I defend cases in Juvenile Court in Georgia, I frequently hear one of these three questions from parents:
- “They didn't read my child his rights – does that mean the case gets thrown out?”
- “The police interrogated my child while I wasn't there – can they do that?”
- “Is there any point in hiring an attorney to investigate my child's case if my child confessed?”
These questions do not have easy or straightforward answers. Like so many questions in the law, the correct answer to all three questions is “it's complicated.” I will attempt to explain more about these questions in this article. However, this article is not legal advice and should not be taken as such, because every case is different. Therefore, if your child was interrogated and is facing charges in a Georgia Juvenile Court, the best course of action is to contact a Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney immediately.
When conducting interrogations, police have certain rules they are required to follow, even when they are dealing with adults.
Most people who watch TV have heard of the case of Miranda v. Arizona, or are at least vaguely aware of what a person's Miranda rights are. In popular media, typically when the police arrest a person they say something to the effect of:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided to you at no cost to yourself.”
Essentially, this is a recitation of an individual's rights under the 5th and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which deal with an individual's right not to incriminate himself and an individual's right to counsel, respectively.
In general, Miranda warnings must be read to a person who is in custody that has first been subjected to questioning, and if that person asserts his right to remain silent, questioning must cease immediately. Any information given by a defendant in response to further questioning is inadmissible in court against him or her. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). It is important to note that a violation of Miranda by the police does not result in dismissal of the charges. Hardwick v. State, 210 Ga. App. 468 (1993). The case may still proceed, but the statement cannot be used in order to determine the individual's guilt or innocence. However, admissions of guilt are often essential to the State's case, and occasionally a case will fall apart if a statement is excluded from evidence.
Today, most arguments about confessions deal in some way with Miranda – whether it applies and whether a person validly waived, or gave up, his or her rights prior to giving a statement to the police.
Many people believe that the police are required to read a person's Miranda rights every time they speak to a person. This is not correct. The police only have to read a person his or her rights once that person is taken into custody or “otherwise deprived of freedom of action in any significant way.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Following this, Georgia courts have repeatedly held that a person need not be told that he is under arrest in order to be in “custody.” Nor need he be in handcuffs or in the back of a police car. Rather, Georgia courts are required to “apply an objective standard and determine whether a reasonable person in [the defendant's] situation would have believed he was physically deprived of his freedom of action in a significant way.” State v. Brannan, 222 Ga.App. 372 (1996). In Hadley v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals specified four factors to consider in order to determine whether an individual was in custody for Miranda purposes:
- Whether the police had probable cause to arrest,
- What the subjective intent of the police was,
- What the subjective belief of the defendant was, and
- Whether the defendant was the focus of the investigation.
Hadley v. State, 235 Ga.App. 737 (1998). None of these factors alone are dispositive of the question of whether a person was in custody. Instead, courts are charged with evaluating the situation as a whole. For example, in State v. Lucas, the defendant (Lucas) was in his own home when the police arrived to serve a warrant on a different man. They instructed Lucas to remain seated on the sofa while they searched the residence for the man. Inside the house, they came across some marijuana and asked Lucas whose it was. He admitted that it belonged to him. The court, in that case, found that Lucas should have been given his Miranda warnings because a reasonable person in Lucas' position would not have felt free to leave the scene.
Furthermore, Miranda only applies if the police are actually interrogating an individual. Georgia courts have repeatedly held that the police may ask general on-the-scene questions of citizens without reading Miranda. Volunteered confessions are also not affected by Miranda. There are many other exceptions to the applicability of Miranda. Because the applicability of Miranda is so fact-driven, you should discuss all of the facts and circumstances surrounding your child's arrest with a Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney well before the case is heard by a Georgia Juvenile Court.
If Miranda applies and the police read the Miranda warnings, an individual may choose to make a statement anyway. As an attorney, I would never advise my clients to do this, but many people don't realize this until it is too late. If the State seeks to use an individual's statement against him or her, they must prove that (a) the individual was read his/her rights, and (b) the individual knowingly and intelligently waived his right to remain silent and his/her right to the presence of counsel at the time of the interrogation. Again, courts are charged with evaluating the issue of a valid waiver by looking at all the facts and circumstances surrounding the waiver – the “totality of the circumstances.”
Georgia courts recognize that children are more vulnerable to coerced confessions than are adults, and thus have acknowledged that “confessions of juveniles must be scanned with more care and received with greater caution than those of adults.” Crawford v. State, 240 Ga. 321 (1977). For juveniles, the Georgia Court of Appeals has laid out nine factors that lower courts must evaluate in determining whether a juvenile validly waived his constitutional rights:
- the age of the accused,
- the education of the accused,
- the knowledge of the accused as to both the substance of the charge and the nature of his rights to consult with an attorney and remain silent,
- whether the accused is held incommunicado or allowed to consult with relatives, friends, or an attorney,
- whether the accused was interrogated before or after formal charges had been filed,
- the methods used in interrogations,
- the length of the interrogations,
- whether the accused refused to voluntarily give statements on prior occasions, and
- whether the accused has repudiated an extra-judicial statement at a later date. Swain v. State, 285 Ga. App. 550 (2007).
As a partial response to the question at the beginning of this article regarding whether the police may question a child without a parent's presence, the answer is yes, they legally can. However, pursuant to the list above, a court may use the lack of a parent's presence to justify suppression of the statement – but only after it analyzes all of the facts surrounding the confession.
In general, the suppression of evidence is only an available remedy when the police are the ones who have violated a person's rights. Georgia courts have held that schools may actually violate a child's rights, but if they do, the appropriate remedy is to file a civil lawsuit against the school system. Any information gleaned from an interrogation by school officials, even if the interrogation was done illegally, may generally be used in court.
However, many schools today have “school resource officers,” or SROs. Although the relationships between schools and the police departments differ from state to state, in Georgia SRO's are typically full police officers, employed by local police departments but stationed at the schools. As a result, Georgia courts have found that SROs assigned to the schools are considered law enforcement officers, not school officials. State v. Scott, 279 Ga.App. 52, 55, 630 S.E.2d 563 (2006). Many cases that come out of the schools involve a joint effort of school personnel and law enforcement. In these cases, the issue of whether a violation of a child's 5th and 6th Amendment rights results in suppression of the statements can be extremely murky.
In determining whether evidence should be suppressed, the analysis revolves around whether the SRO (or any law enforcement officer) was “involved” in the questioning. The Court of Appeals analyzed this issue in In re T.A.G., a juvenile case from 2008.
In In re T.A.G., 292 Ga.App. 48, 663 S.E.2d 392 (2008), an administrator conducted the interview, but a police officer was present in the room. The officer wore a shirt identifying him as a police officer, and he wore a gun. During the questioning, he asked no questions, and the administrator testified that the officer was only present to ensure the administrator's safety. However, the administrator also testified that earlier that morning, she had told the officer that she would “look into [the case] and keep him posted.” The officer testified that he does not participate in school investigation because once officers get involved, “it changes the rules you play by.” The Court of Appeals found that the administrator was essentially acting as an agent of the police and that therefore the exclusionary rule was triggered. It concluded that in order to implicate Miranda, police involvement in a case need not be substantial. Rather, any involvement or participation by law enforcement personnel triggers the exclusionary rule. In re T.A.G., 292 Ga.App. 48, 663 S.E.2d 392 (2008).
To answer the final question from the beginning of this article, yes, there is absolutely a good reason to have an experienced attorney investigate your child's case, even if your child confessed. Police routinely violate people's rights or otherwise make mistakes in obtaining confessions, especially when they are dealing with juveniles. Every analysis surrounding the admissibility of statements in Georgia Juvenile Courts (and, in fact, in adult courts as well) is incredibly fact-based. There are many exceptions to the general rules, and hundreds of cases dealing with the issue of confessions and other statements made to the police. Getting a statement suppressed can potentially win a case, preventing months of court appearances, probation, court fees, community service, or even incarceration. If your child is facing charges in a Georgia Juvenile Court and made any kind of statements or admissions to the police, you should call a Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney immediately.