In most places, police can lie to juvenile suspects

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Many people would be surprised to learn that police don’t have to tell you the truth when they’re interrogating you about a crime. They can lie about anything from having evidence they don’t have to other people ratting you out. Their right to do that was upheld decades ago by the U.S. Supreme Court.

They not only can lie to adults but (in most states) to juveniles, as well. That practice has come under fire not only from criminal justice advocates but from mental health professionals. 

Why are juveniles more likely to make false confessions?

These professionals argue that child and adolescent brains are still developing, so they’re more likely to believe what an officer is telling them. They’re also more likely to confess to crimes even when they’re not guilty than adults. 

Why would lies from law enforcement cause juveniles to confess to something they didn’t do? Psychologists say that in addition to being less able to deal with stress (like they’d experience in a long, vigorous interrogation), they are prone to something called “temporal discounting.” This makes them seek short-term rewards without considering long-term consequences. If they’re told that if they just confess, they can go home, they’re more likely to do it than an adult would (although plenty of adults have done the same).

Can states outlaw the practice?

A few states have taken steps to enact laws to prohibit police officers from lying to juveniles. For example, it’s illegal in Illinois. So far, however, neither Wisconsin nor Minnesota has enacted such a law.

Although no parent wants to think of the possibility that their child could be detained by police, it’s important to prepare them nonetheless. That includes ensuring that they know their constitutional rights and are prepared to respectfully but confidently assert them. If your child has been arrested, make sure they feel free to call you or another trusted adult who will then seek legal counsel for them. This can help them protect their rights from the outset.