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Different rules for minors in questioning

South Carolina residents may be aware of a Supreme Court decision that held that police must be more careful in how they question minors. People are supposed to be informed of their Miranda rights when they are taken into custody. However, it is not always clear when a person is in custody, and for minors, it may be even less clear.

The courts apply the standard of a reasonable person. If the circumstances are such that a reasonable person would assume that they are in custody and not at liberty to leave the situation, then the officer must remind the person of their Miranda rights.

The Supreme Court decision involved a 13-year-old boy who had admitted to involvement in two burglaries in a conference room at his school with police officers and two administrators present. The boy then sought to have those statements declared inadmissible, but the trial judge refused to grant the request. Following the boy's admission, an officer did say the boy could leave if he wanted, but the boy stayed to answer questions. However, the Supreme Court ruled that while the trial judge's decision may not have been improper, it was necessary to take the boy's age into account. Minors may be more likely to acquiesce to authority figures and fail to recognize that they are not compelled to remain for questioning.

This may be an important avenue of defense for juveniles who face charges for offenses such as underage drinking or drunk driving. While charges such as these for an underage driver can be serious, an attorney may be able to assist with preventing some of the long-term consequences that may accompany it. For example, if a child is stopped by an officer and admits to drinking during questioning while not being in custody, it may be possible to make that statement inadmissible.

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