Teenagers Who Confess to Crimes They Did Not Commit

Here’s something you may find shocking: Your teenager could easily be forced into confessing to a crime they did not commit. In fact, studies have shown that this occurs far more frequently than most people know. According to a study published in May 2006 in the American Psychologist, researchers from the University of Virginia conducted a review of cases involving the exonerations of juveniles between 1989 and 2004. They found that, in 42 percent of the cases, juveniles falsely confessed to crimes that they did not actually commit. This is more than three times the rate at which adults falsely confess to crimes. Furthermore, the younger a teenager is, the more likely they are to confess to a crime they did not commit.

While this finding may not surprise criminal defense attorneys, it would send most parents into a panic. In this post, we will take a practical approach in reviewing specific tips on how to prevent this from happening to your family. We’re also going to guide you in preparing yourself and your teenager in case it does occur.

Steps to Take to Prevent False Confessions by Teens

Here’s the good news: If you are the parent or guardian of a teenager, you can dramatically lower the odds of your child falsely confessing to a crime by taking certain proactive steps. The first step is to make sure your teen fully understands the Miranda rights.

Miranda vs. Arizona is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case generally requiring law enforcement officers to advise suspects of their right under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate themselves. You’ve undoubtedly seen it on TV and in the movies as a police detective recites the Miranda warning that includes advising the individual of their right to remain silent. Minors have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer in the same manner as adults charged with committing a criminal offense.

Children and teens should be instructed by their parents to refrain from making any statements to police when they have been detained or taken into custody. They have the right to wait for a parent to arrive before being questioned by the police, and you have the right to arrange for a lawyer to represent your child before questioning by police ensues.

Next, they need to know in advance exactly what they should do and how they should act if they are arrested or detained by a law enforcement officer. Just as you teach a six-year-old not to talk to strangers when you’re not around, it’s equally important to teach your teenager what to do if they are arrested or detained by an officer. You should impress upon your teen that, even if a police officer seems friendly, it is important to speak with you and an attorney before answering questions.

You should also teach your teenager that if he or she is arrested or detained by a law enforcement officer, it’s always best to stay completely calm. They should be respectful and courteous of the police by simply stating their desire to speak with a parent before answering any questions.

Role Playing to Reinforce Your Child’s Rights

Role-playing is a great way to test whether or not your child really understands what you are trying to teach them. It’s also useful for restating and reinforcing what you’re saying in a more practical way. Plus, it’s a huge confidence booster. You can take on the role of the police officer by saying, “Let’s pretend I’m a police officer and I’ve just arrested you. I’ve pulled you aside and we’re talking.” The exchange could go something like this:

Police Officer: “Okay Brian, can you tell me your side of the story now?”

Teen: “My mom told me I have the right to remain silent and not answer your questions without an attorney.”

Police Officer: “If you don’t answer my questions, it makes you seem guilty, even if you aren’t.”

Teen: “I’m not guilty of anything. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

At this point, you can remind your teen that he doesn’t need to prove anything to the officer. All he needs to do is say that he wants to remain silent, talk to an attorney, and call his mom or dad. You could also tell your teen simply to call you and then wait for you to call an attorney. In either case, instruct your child to tell the officer about wanting to wait to speak with you or the lawyer before continuing.

Once your teen understands the basics of what they need to say, try role-playing again using a more aggressive tone- to help them learn how to avoid being forced, coerced, or tricked into making an incriminating statement. Role-playing will give your teen the confidence to deal with the intimidating and anxiety-provoking situation of being confronted by police officers conducting an investigation.

Be Prepared in Advance to Contact a Lawyer

The telephone call from police letting you know they have your child in custody can be unnerving for a parent. You want what is best for your child, but it can be difficult to know what to do without being prepared. Know in advance the lawyer to call in case you need one for your child. This way, you won’t be scrambling to find the best lawyer during a troubling time.

Know Who to Call

If you live in Travis County or Central Texas, Austin criminal and juvenile defense lawyer Rick Cofer possesses the knowledge, experience, and skills you want in the attorney representing your child. Call him now at 512-200-3801 for trusted legal advice and guidance.