Skip to main content

Primary tabs

Criminal Resource Manual

44. Questioning A Juvenile In Custody

The questioning of juvenile suspects raises legal issues which could have a bearing on the admissibility of any confession made by a juvenile in custody.

  1. Voluntariness of Confession. A juvenile has both a right to counsel and a privilege against self-incrimination in juvenile delinquency proceedings. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 32-55 (1979). A juvenile may waive his Fifth Amendment rights and consent to interrogation. Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707 (1979).

    The question of whether a waiver is voluntary and knowing is one to be resolved on the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation. The court must determine not only that the statements were not coerced or suggested, but also that they were not the products of "ignorance of rights or of adolescent fantasy, fright, or despair." In re Gault, 387 U.S. at 55. Among the factors to be considered are the juvenile's age, experience, education, background, and intelligence, and whether he has the capacity to understand the warnings given to him, the nature of his Fifth Amendment rights, and the consequences of waiving them. Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. at 725. For applications of the totality of the circumstances approach involving juveniles, see United States v. White Bear, 668 F.2d 409 (8th Cir. 1982); United States v. Palmer, 604 F.2d 64 (10th Cir. 1979); West v. United States, 399 F.2d 467 (5th Cir. 1968).

    Since confessions by juveniles are given even closer scrutiny than those by adults, Miranda warnings are probably an essential threshold requirement for voluntariness. The presence and cosignature of a parent or guardian is not required for a voluntary waiver, although it is a factor to be considered and will help dispel any notion that the juvenile was coerced.

  2. Prompt Presentment.In addition to voluntariness, the courts have also considered the statutory requirement of prompt presentment in connection with the admissibility of confessions. Title 18 U.S.C. § 5033 provides that the juvenile shall be taken before a magistrate forthwith. In no event shall the juvenile be detained for longer than a reasonable period of time before being brought before a magistrate.

    Apparently by analogy to the McNabb/Mallory rule for adults, some courts have held inadmissible confessions obtained during a delay in presentment in violation of this provision. In deciding when this provision has been violated, some courts have focused on the "forthwith" language and others on the "reasonable period of time" language. See United States v. Nash, 620 F. Supp. 1439, 1443 (S.D.N.Y. 1985); United States v. Smith, 574 F.2d 707, 710 (2d Cir. 1978); United States v. Indian Boy, 565 F.2d 585, 591 (9th Cir. 1978). Because of the varying approaches to this issue, it is essential to consult the law of the circuit.

[cited in USAM 9-8.140]