State High Court Decides 10-Year-Old Can Waive His Right to Remain Silent

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court recognized the right to remain silent in the face of police questioning in Miranda v. Arizona in 1966, and 34 years later in Dickerson v. United States Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said Miranda “warnings have become part of our national culture.”

The warnings are so ubiquitous that even a 10-year-old child knows about his right to remain silent and that if he chooses to speak, his words can be used against him in a court of law. At least that is what a majority of the California Supreme Court believes.

Last week, the justices voted 4-3 against hearing the appeal of a 10-year-old boy convicted of shooting his abusive, drug addicted neo-Nazi father to death while he slept in 2011. The boy was initially found guilty in juvenile court of what would have been second-degree murder if he were an adult and committed to the state Division of Juvenile Justice for seven years.

The California Court of Appeal upheld the verdict, rejecting arguments by the boy’s attorney that the kid was too young to understand his Miranda rights and therefore could not legally waive them. The boy’s statements to the police were used in court against him.

The three justices who voted to hear the case were appointed by Governor Brown. The Los Angeles Times said Associate Justice Goodwin Liu pointed out in his dissent that the boy, called Joseph H. in court records, was one of 613 California kids under 12 arrested in 2011 for felonies.

“This case raises an important legal issue that likely affects hundreds of children each year: whether and, if so, how the concept of a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent Miranda waiver can be meaningfully applied to a child as young as 10 years old,” Liu wrote.

California courts have rarely ruled that children under 15 can knowingly waive their rights, according to the Times. One court upheld the waiver for a 12-year-old and now the state justices have limboed even lower.

Liu suggested that the Legislature might want to weigh in on the issue.    

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Court Upholds That Boy Who Killed Neo-Nazi Dad Legally Waived Miranda Rights (by Ali Tadayon, Riverside Press-Enterprise)

Court Lets Stand a Ruling That a 10-Year-Old Can Validly Waive Miranda Rights (by Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times)

Supreme Court: Children Are Different When It Comes to Miranda Warning Against Self-Incrimination  (by Robert Barnes, Washington Post)

People v. Joseph H. (California Court of Appeal Fourth Appellate District) (pdf)

J.D.B. v. North Carolina (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)

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