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Protecting the rights of Juveniles in Custody

Summary

County Council adopts legislation prohibiting youths in incarceration from interrogation without having consulted an attorney

Story

The Metropolitan King County Council today gave its approval to legislation that would prohibit the County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) from allowing a juvenile to be interrogated before first talking with an attorney. The legislation also prohibits DAJD from releasing a juvenile in its custody to law enforcement without a court order.

“This legislation, vetted through our community-based Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, will protect our children by ensuring that they will be represented by an attorney who will have their best interests at heart,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, chair of the Council’s Law and Justice Committee. “Science, courts, and best practices show that youth must be provided protection from potential self-incrimination and abuses that can occur once in contact with our criminal justice system.”

“This is a common sense measure that aligns with the County’s commitment to Equity and Social Justice,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Health, Housing and Humans Service Committee Chair. “Just as adults are entitled to an attorney, it is our responsibility to make sure children and youth are able to have an attorney available to them as well. This can be especially important during a time they may be confused, afraid or vulnerable. I am pleased to co-sponsor this legislation and remain committed to working on diverting youth from the justice system altogether.”

In an effort to gain information on other potentially serious criminal issues, the King County Prosecutor has allowed law enforcement to interview juveniles on crimes not related to the reasons that the youth is being detained. Concern has been raised that in these interviews, done without the youth being able to consult with an attorney, that youth could potentially incriminate themselves.

The U. S. Supreme Court has found that youth are more vulnerable to police pressure than adults and often lack the experience, perspective, and judgment to recognize and avoid choices that could be detrimental to them.

When juveniles are in custody of King County, DAJD can prohibit police officers from interviewing the juveniles without an attorney present. But the prohibition requires documentation from a public defender or private defense attorney.

This documentation is not regularly provided for every juvenile that is admitted to detention. Additionally, the youth has the right to waive the documentation and speak with law enforcement anyway.

The adopted legislation would ensure that every juvenile must consult with an attorney before making the decision about whether to speak with police officers.

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