Following the case of Miranda v. Arizona in 1966, the Miranda rights have become a familiar aspect of many television shows and movies. During my evaluations, even younger juveniles (ages 11 or 12) are often able to recite the rights from memory: “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 for you.”
Though the warning may seem straightforward, many juveniles struggle to fully understand or appreciate each of their rights. Further complicating the matter, there is not a standard set of instructions for providing this warning. As a result, there are hundreds if not thousands of differently worded versions used daily with juveniles across the United States. Given a variety of factors (developmental or maturational levels, mental disorders, and differences in understandability of the warnings), the juvenile may confess or provide evidence of guilt without being competent to waive their Miranda rights.
In a 2016 study, Rogers and his fellow researchers were interested in examining several things. First, they wanted to determine whether juvenile defendants recalled more when provided the warning orally, written, and by combined administrations. They also wanted to look at the impact of complexity of the warning (based on reading levels) on Miranda recall. For the second objective, juveniles were presented with a crime vignette in which they were the suspect. They were then provided a Miranda warning and asked whether they would waive their rights and why/why not. The specific reasons for the waiver decisions were then evaluated using the Miranda Reasoning Measure (MRM; Rogers, Sewell, Drogin, & Fiduccia, 2012b).
Perhaps one of the most significant findings was “the failure in all modalities for juveniles to recall even 50% of the key Miranda details. This still holds true for those provided with the easy warning.” Unexpectedly, following a delay, the juveniles recall for the rights only diminished by about 3% from their original ability to recall. The easily worded written warnings had less than half the omissions of the oral warnings. Interestingly, the combination of oral and written modalities did not provide an incremental improvement over written-alone. The authors hypothesized that when the information was read to the juvenile, even at a slower pace, the juvenile was unable to cognitively maintain pace with the reader and understand everything they said. The researchers concluded, “It is doubtful whether these legally involved juveniles were ‘clearly informed’ of these requisite Miranda components (Miranda, 1966, p. 471), when they lack even the vaguest recall immediately following their advisements.” Of the rights included in Miranda, "continuing legal rights" was the most frequently omitted by juveniles (82.3%). Approximately 36.8% of juveniles presented with impaired Miranda reasoning, 30.6% presented with questionable reasoning, and only the remaining 32.6% were assessed to have likely adequate reasoning.
In the discussion, the authors express concerns raised by Feld, 2013. Feld reviewed Miranda transcripts for 307 juvenile suspects. He determined police officers used several strategies in order to diminish the apparent importance of the waiver decision. Officers employed techniques including “manipulative rapport-building, emphasizing the importance of “truth-telling,” and trivializing the waiver as a ‘bureaucratic exercise’ (p. 11). An additional approach is for investigating ofﬁcers to use extensive narratives in characterizing their roles as ‘neutral, objective fact ﬁnders trying to determine what happened rather than adversaries’ (Feld, 2006, p. 258).” Rogers, et al., noted the successful nature of these techniques given that approximately 93% of the juveniles waived their rights. Within the first 15 minutes of interrogation, 58.6% of defendants provided a confession and an additional 29.8% offered a “serious admission.”
In conclusion, the authors close, “From a defense perspective, counsel is compelled to contemplate the hundreds of thousands of young lives that stand to be affected each year by ill-advised waivers and admissions by children who did not truly understand their rights. From a prosecution perspective, it cannot be overemphasized that the extraction of inadmissible, inaccurate, or outright false confessions may jeopardize the ability of law enforcement to apprehend truly guilty parties—and the ability of judges to determine a just outcome, titrated to the actual wrongdoing.”
For the abstract, visit
Rogers, R., et al. (2016). An Examination of Juveniles' Miranda Abilities: Investigating Differences in Miranda Recall and Reasoning. Behavioral Science & the Law, 34(4), 515-538.