In State in Interest of A.A., 240 N.J. 341, 345-46 (2020), the police arrested the juvenile, A.A., in connection with a shooting incident, brought him to a juvenile facility, and placed him in a holding cell.  The police summoned A.A.’s mother to the police station in compliance with State v. Presha, 163 N.J. 304, 316 (2000), which directs law enforcement officers to “use their best efforts to locate a parent or legal guardian” before starting to interrogate a juvenile in custody.  State in Interest of A.A., 240 N.J. at 344-45.  Upon arrival, the police informed A.A.’s mother of the charges her son faced and then took her to the holding cell where A.A. was being detained.  Id. at 345.

The police allowed A.A. and his mother, who was visibly emotional, to speak through the gate of the holding cell.  Id. at 347.  An officer who was present in the area testified at a pretrial hearing that he overheard A.A. make several incriminating statements to his mother.  Ibid.  The police did not subsequently attempt to question A.A., nor did they provide him with Miranda[1] warnings at any point.  Ibid.

The New Jersey Supreme Court, like the Appellate Division, found “that the actions of the police amounted to the functional equivalent of interrogation,” and thus, A.A. should have been advised of his Miranda rights.  Id. at 345.  The Supreme Court set forth that “[t]o hold otherwise would turn Presha and the safeguards it envisioned on their head.”  Ibid.

The Court explained that “[j]uveniles receive heightened protections when it comes to custodial interrogations for obvious reasons.  Common sense tells us that juveniles — teenagers and children alike — are typically less mature, often lack judgment, and are generally more vulnerable to pressure than adults.”  Id. at 354.  “For those and other reasons, ‘the greatest care must be taken to assure that’ a juvenile’s admission is ‘voluntary, in the sense not only that it was not coerced or suggested, but also that it was not the product of ignorance of rights or of adolescent fantasy, fright or despair.’”  Id. at 354 (quoting In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 55 (1967)).

The New Jersey Supreme Court found that “[p]arents and other adults play a key role in that regard.”  Id. at 355.  “As the United States Supreme Court acknowledged long ago, a juvenile in custody who faces questioning needs ‘support if he is not to become the victim first of fear, then of panic.  He needs someone on whom to lean lest the overpowering presence of the law, as he knows it, may not crush him.’”  Ibid.  (quoting Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596, 600 (1948)).  “In the intimidating setting of a police station, parents can serve as advisors and offer support and assistance.”  Ibid.  Thus, the New Jersey Supreme Court has “stressed the critical role parents have when juveniles are interrogated.”  Ibid.

Turning to the case at issue, the Court found that “instead of serving as a buffer to help a juvenile understand his rights, the child’s mother unwittingly assisted the police and helped gather incriminating evidence.”  Id. at 358.

Significantly, to reinforce the protections afforded to juveniles under our law and to avoid what took place in State in Interest of A.A., the Court set forth the following guidelines to be applied during juvenile interrogations.  Ibid.  First, “the police should advise juveniles in custody of their Miranda rights — in the presence of a parent or legal guardian — before the police question, or a parent speaks with, the juvenile.”  Ibid.  And second, “[o]fficers should then give parents or guardians a meaningful opportunity to consult with the juvenile in private about those rights.”  Ibid.

The Court explained that such an “approach would enable parents to help children understand their rights and decide whether to waive them — as contemplated in Presha.  If law enforcement officers do not allow a parent and juvenile to consult in private, absent a compelling reason, that fact should weigh heavily in the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the juvenile’s waiver and statements were voluntary.”  Id. at 359.

Juveniles are entitled to special protection under our laws in New Jersey and parents play a key role in offering support and assistance.  If you or your child are facing criminal charges you should immediately reach out to our team of experienced former prosecutors to schedule a free case review with one of our expert criminal defense attorneys. A complete understanding of criminal law by your attorney is crucial to your defense. Your rights and freedoms are in jeopardy, and you owe it to yourself to act. We are available to provide immediate assistance and further counsel on your criminal case at (862) 315-7929.

[1] Miranda v. Ariz., 384 U.S. 436 (1966).