In the criminal justice system one of the most scrutinized aspects is the validity of an interrogation. Whether you can lie to a suspect? Or ask questions that already contain information that the suspect would not know if they had not committed the crime. One aspect that is not under the limelight as much is the legitimacy of an interrogation that involves a juvenile. There are rules and laws in place meant to protect a juvenile of self-implication, but how many law enforcement officers follow these rules? Law enforcement has a te4ndency to forget that the criminal justice system is intended to protect, not just to apprehend individuals who they believe are criminals.
In her paper Dr. Cleary states that there are so many papers and analysis of the biases that can take place during the interrogation of an adult, but there aren’t as many that take on the analyses of what a juvenile can face during an interrogation. Dr. Cleary studied the video recordings of interrogations to come to some of her conclusions, she analyzed Fifty-seven electronic recordings from 17 police departments. Most of the interrogation had a juvenile that did not have a child advocate or a parent to help them understand what their rights are. Young adults were in a room with an authority figure, and they did not understand all the information that they are given. ‘Interrogation outcomes varied and included full confessions, partially incriminating admissions, and denials of guilt. Results from this study provide context for interrogation research using other methods and suggest that youth may frequently consent to interrogation in the absence of important legal protections.’ (Cleary, 2014).
Dr. Cleary noted that the younger a juvenile was, the more likely that they were to just agree with an officer, specifically under the age of 15 (Cleary 2014). Juveniles have the highest confession rates, and age is one of the definite contributors to this fact.
(Grisso and Pomicter 1977) 707 felony referrals to the juvenile court in St. Louis County, Missouri were examined and discovered that according to police records, approximately 90% of youth consented to questioning, including almost every youth under age 15 in the sample’’. This statistic contributes to the fact that juveniles do not understand what the severity of a police interrogation can entail. Dr. Cleary provided four studies that all came to one conclusion the younger a juvenile the more impaired they were when it came to understand and comprehend what something like Miranda rights is. Woolard and colleagues (2008) is a study that Dr. Cleary used to show that sometimes parents cannot teach what something like Miranda rights is, because they don’t know either.
Studied what falsely accusing a juvenile of causing a computer to crash would cause them to do. ‘’They reported that younger youth were more likely to falsely confess to an act than older youth, and that 15–16-year old juveniles were significantly more likely to sign a confession statement when presented with false evidence of their guilt (Cleary, 2014). The ability at which a juvenile’s confession can be considered at which a juvenile’s confession can be considered evidence is something that has gone to the supreme court. Justice Sotomayer stated “Just as police officers are competent to account for other objective circumstances that are a matter of degree such as the length of questioning or the number of officers present, so too are they competent to evaluate the effect of relative age”.
Which can be interpreted to mean that the same way that we trust law enforcement to be competent and arrest the correct suspect, that we should also be able to trust them to be competent when it comes to understanding how they should correctly treat a juvenile. (J. D. B. v. North Carolina, 2011, p. 16). There are two tables in Dr. Cleary’s paper that include the demographics of the juveniles whose interrogations she watched; The second table speaks more to the comfort level of the juvenile and the interrogator. The interrogators were almost always in a defensive position, automatically making it more uncomfortable for the juvenile involved.
Dr. Cleary’s research paper provided enough data where the conclusion that the younger someone is the more likely they are to confess to a crime that they did not commit. Children do not have a basic understanding of the rights that they have, and sometimes their parents do not either. This is concerning, Miranda rights can be considered thee heart of the criminal justice system over the past few decades.
According to Christine Scott-Hayward, false juvenile confessions have been ravaging the criminal justice system for years. Juveniles have been prone to manipulation and intimidation from police during interrogation for decades. One certain example of this comes in May of 1998 (Scott-Hayward). During that time, Allen Chesnet, a sixteen-year old juvenile, was working in his home in Maryland when he seemed to cut his hand doing an unknown task (Scott-Hayward). A reporter was investigating a murder victim who lived nearby.
Suspecting Chesnet’s involvement in the murder due to the cut he got previously, he called the police on the child (Scott-Hayward). When the police arrived, they bombarded Chesnet with questions and even showed him pictures of the murder, but he remained quiet (Scott-Hayward). Later, one of the police officers faked a call from the State Crime Labatory, in which supposedly confirmed that Chesnet’s DNA matched the DNA found on the blood of the crime scene. At that point, Chesnet “confessed,” and ended up spending nearly 6 months in jail before the actual DNA tests were done. The actual DNA ended up being of a man police received a tip on just hours after the murder, and Chenet’s charges were dropped (Scott-Hayward).
Chesnet’s faux confession just adds to the ongoing problem of false confessions. Why did the cops target Chesnet in the first place? More importantly, why did Chesnet confess to a murder that he never even committed? So many questions to answer. Nevertheless, false confessions are like a never going away scar on the criminal justice system. Over the past few decades, we have begun to discover the nature, causes, and consequences of a false confession. When DNA testing began in the 1980’s and continued into the 1990’s, Multiple lawyers and social scientists have investigated the causes of miscarriages in justice, in which some have resulted in wrongful convictions (Scott-Hayward.) After further analysis, the amount of false confessions being the central reason for miscarriages in justice were as high as 25% (Scott-Hayward.) You may ask, “What leads to so many false confessions to police?” and “How can that be possible if the suspect confidently knows that he or she never even committed the crime?” Chrstine Scott-Hayward points to the interrogation process.
“As the name suggests, coerced-compliant false confessions are attributable to ‘the pressures or coerciveness of the interrogation process.’ (22) These pressures include the physical custody and isolation, the confrontation process, ‘during which interrogators exploit the psychology of inevitability to drive suspects into a state of despair,’ (23) and minimization, ‘a process of providing moral justification or face-saving excuses.’ (24) The suspect ‘comes to give in to the demands and pressures of the interrogators for some immediate instrumental gain.’
This gain can include ending the interview, being allowed to go home, or avoiding being locked up; basically the suspect wants to escape from the stressful situation he or she is in.” As Scott-Hayward stated previously, suspects are caught up in the moment. The interrogation process is like having a gun pointed at you head the whole entire time. Suspects are more attracted to the short-term gains, such as being able to return to their home, ending the interview with whoever is interrogating them, and possibly even avoid being locked up in jail. Suspects completely ignore the future negative consequences, they just want to return to normal, who can blame them? Nobody wants to be entangled in a situation like that.
Two men, Steven Drizin and Richard Leo, studied 125 proven false confessions between the years 1971 and 2002. The two men discovered that 63% (about 79 of those proven false confessions) came from people under the age of 25. 33% of those cases were from juveniles. Drizin and Leo considered juveniles as being aged 17 or younger. The two men researched various false confessions, including from people such as Michael Crowe.
Another case that stood out regarding false confessions from juveniles was involving the Murder of Stephanie Crowe. Stephanie was stabbed nine different times in her bed in January 1998. Stephanie’s brother, Michael, was only 14 years old when police were targeting him for being the murderer of his sister (Leung.) Michael’s Parents said to police that he was a quiet kid who liked to read and play video games. Police thought otherwise and were hell-bent on him being a “bright kid with a dark side” (Leung.) They reasoned this was due to Michael playing a video game while his family was grieving, amongst other things. More importantly, investigators were paranoid about Michael’s habit, which according to Rebecca Leung, was “He said he woke up very early that morning with a headache, took some Tylenol, drank a glass of milk, and then walked back from the kitchen to his room.” (Leung). Furthermore, Michael was barred from going to his own sister’s funeral. After comprehending all that information, the fact such events happened are downright astonishing.
Michael was taken in for questioning, where he feverously denied all claims about murdering his sister. However, the cops did not relent with the questioning, continuing to interrogate him until he (and two friends) finally falsely confessed to the murder. Michael directly mentions, according to Leung, ““All I know is I’m positive I killed her,’ says Michael during his interrogation. ‘She was like a threat to me. Everything I did she could match. That wasn’t right. … She made me feel worthless.’” At that point, you just get so worn down with questioning you just admit it and leave not knowing the real consequences. You keep getting questioned so much, it’s like you can’t even trust your own memory, and your body ends up playing tricks on you.
Fortunately, public defender Mary Ellen Attridge came to the rescue. Another man, known crazy person and schizophrenic Richard Tuite was a person of interest. At that point there was no evidence at the time, as police tested Tuite’s shirt and not his sweatshirt. The defense demanded Tuite’s other clothes go for testing. Conveniently, three drops of Stephanie’s blood were discovered on the sweatshirt. Stunning the prosecution and judge, a freeze was put on the trial, and six weeks later, after a near six-month incarceration, charges against Michael Crowe and his friends were dropped.
Tuite was already in jail, but the DA was hesitant to charge him, this lasted nearly a year, until the state attorney general had to step in. An inexcusable 5 years after the first questioning, Richard Tuite was finally charged with the murder of Stephanie Crowe (Leung.) The police and prosecution dropped the ball, getting a false confession and going with it all the away to trial.
There are still two different perspectives, but it cannot move on from the fact that, yet another false confession ended up ruining 6 months’ worth of time for some kids because they falsely admitted they committed a crime. The Crowe’s were livid, suing the police department and everyone involved in the prosecution, and ended up receiving a monetary settlement of over 7 million dollars (Sauer). Settlements are great for those falsely accused, but nothing can undo the damage done during those 6 months to 3 innocent children, away from their parents, and a near impending doom above their heads.