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How the states handle interrogation of juvenile suspects – II

Last week, our blog discussed how the experience of being questioned by law enforcement officials in connection with a criminal offense can prove to be incredibly intimidating for juveniles, many of whom are frightened, alone and unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation.

Indeed, we discussed how even though many states have passed laws designed to help rectify some of the inherent hazards of juvenile interrogations — allowing parents to be present, re-writing Miranda warnings in simpler language, etc. — many juvenile suspects still falsely confess to serious crimes, resulting in their wrongful imprisonment.

We also discussed how several states have begun considering and even passing legislation designed to strengthen the rights of juveniles detained and questioned by the police for questioning even further.

All of this naturally raises the question as what the law here in Tennessee has to say concerning juvenile interrogations.

In general, the Volunteer State has no laws on the books establishing a minimum age at which a juvenile can be arrested and/or questioned by law enforcement. Furthermore, while a juvenile is extended the same right to an attorney as an adult, there are no provisions calling for simplified Miranda warnings or for an adult to be present during subsequent questioning.

Interestingly, Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) introduced a bill during this past session that, if passed, would have mandated the following in relation to juvenile interrogations: an attorney, parent or guardian must always be present, and all such interrogations must be captured on video.

The measure failed to gain traction, however, with fellow lawmakers calling the bill overly broad. Specifically, opponents argued that it could unnecessarily complicate the investigatory efforts of law enforcement officials, particularly if a parent, who was potentially complicit in any alleged criminal activity, is present.

The defeat of Sparks’ bill doesn’t necessarily mean that this issue will no longer be considered. A task force formed by state lawmakers to study new approaches to juvenile justice will be issuing recommendations shortly after the start of the legislative session next month. It’s possible that it could call for wholesale changes to the rules for juvenile interrogation.

Stay tuned for any updates …

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible to help ensure the protection of your rights whether you’ve been charged — or even detained — in connection with any type of criminal offense.

Knoxville Family Law Attorney