EDITORIAL: Protect kids from false confessions

Bill would require videotaping of police interrogations for criminal cases in Family Court
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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

We have to remember, no matter what they did, they’re kids.

They might charged with crimes that an adult would commit. They might be behaving like adults.

But they’re still kids. And to ensure justice is administered fairly, our legal system has to treat them as kids.

We know from studies that teenagers’ brains aren’t fully formed until they get into their 20s, affecting their reasoning and decision-making ability.

So they might not always respond to adult situations and adult questioning the way an adult would.

For kids in those situations, the way they behave under questioning from law enforcement during a criminal interrogation could set the course for the rest of their lives.

We’ve seen all too often what happens when criminal suspects — even those who’ve been subject to police interrogations in the past — are subject to intense interrogation.

Police interrogation techniques often include practices that take advantage of a subject’s fears and lack of knowledge of the legal system, and that use exhaustion, guilt and leading questions to secure admissions of guilt, even from subjects who are innocent of their crimes.

A teenager under similar pressure is even more likely to make statements and admissions that might not be true or in their best interests.

Juries these days often want to see a confession to help them decide innocence or guilt. So police know they need to do anything they can to get confessions. And that often means using questionable techniques to get them.

By having the entire encounter videotaped, juries can decide whether the police conducted their interrogation fairly  whether they applied undue pressure that might promote a false admission of guilt and lead to a wrongful conviction.

State lawmakers are considering a bill (A7970/S6533) that would ensure that protection by amending the Family Court Act to ensure that cases in Family Court include videotaping of interrogations, including the provision of Miranda warnings and the waiver, if any, of rights by the juveniles. In addition, it would help eliminate disparities between the testimony that police officers give and the versions of the interrogation offered by parents and other witnesses.

This legislation, passed by the Assembly on Tuesday, would ensure transparency and fairness in the juvenile justice system and ensure that children are treated fairly and with full consideration of their age and maturity levels.

The Senate needs to pass this bill and the governor needs to sign it.

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