The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution protects individuals from being forced to incriminate themselves. Before interrogating a person in custody, the police have to tell them of their right to remain silent and that what they say could be used against them. The police must also advise them of the right to speak with an attorney before being question and to have the attorney present. The police must inform them of their right to counsel, which may be appointed if they cannot afford one. Finally, the police have to advise them of their right to stop the questioning. Under Washington law, a juvenile has the same rights against self-incrimination as adults. The rights of a juvenile under 12 years old may only be waived by a parent, guardian, or custodian, but a juvenile at least 12 years old may waive their own rights. RCW 13.40.140.
In a recent case, a juvenile defendant appealed her conviction arguing her Miranda waiver should not be considered valid. According to the appeals court’s opinion, when the defendant was 11 or 12 years old, she took videos of her friend, who was the same age, showering and getting dressed. After the defendant turned 13, the friend learned the videos were posted on the defendant’s Snapchat account. The friend asked her to delete them. The defendant denied posting them and said she did not have a phone anymore and that her Snapchat account was hacked.
The friend’s stepfather contacted the defendant’s mother, but the mother also stated the defendant did not have a device to post them. A third girl testified she saw the videos when the defendant posted them to a group chat including her and the friend that evening.
The friend’s mother contacted the police. Detectives later questioned the defendant in an interview room at the police station while her mother waited in the lobby. The detective gave the defendant her Miranda warning and she said she understood. The defendant admitted the Snapchat account was hers, but said it had been hacked and someone else posted the videos.
The state charged the defendant with disclosing intimate images of a minor. The friend, her mother, and her stepfather all testified. The defendant’s mother testified her daughter could not have posted the videos because she did not have a phone and her account had been hacked.
The trial court found the defendant’s statements in the interview with the detectives were admissible. The court found the defendant was “a bright, strong, and engaged conversationalist…” The court found she had not been induced by threats or promises.
The trial court found the defendant guilty. The defendant appealed, arguing she did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive her Miranda rights. She argued the court should apply a heightened standard for juveniles younger than 14. She also argued juveniles under the age of 14 can only waive Miranda rights in the presence of counsel or a parent.
The appeals court noted, however, that the Washington Supreme Court had rejected that argument in a previous case. The Washington Supreme Court had reasoned that the legislature had determined that children under 12 needed additional assistance from parents or their attorney, but the Washington Supreme Court declined to apply the same rule to juveniles who were 12 and older. Instead, it held that the judge must determine if the older juvenile made a knowing and intelligent waiver based on the totality of the circumstances.
In considering the totality of the circumstances, the court may consider duration, location, and continuity of the interrogation. The court may also consider the defendant’s traits, including maturity, intelligence and experience. Additionally, the court may consider police coercion and whether the defendant was advised of her Miranda rights.
The state has the burden of proving the waiver was voluntary. The court must determine if the police statements were so manipulative or coercive as to deprive the defendant of the ability to make an independent decision of her own free will.
The appeals court found the detectives had not raised their voices or spoken too fast or too slow. The defendant had clearly responded that she understood her rights and wanted to talk to them. There were no threats or promises made. The defendant consistently denied taking and posting the videos. She indicated she knew lying was bad. The appeals court found the defendant “intelligently and cogently” answered the questions. She requested clarification when she did not understand.
The appeals court found the trial court’s findings were supported by substantial evidence, and further, that the findings supported a conclusion the defendant explicitly waived her Miranda rights and knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made the statements. The appeals court therefore found no error in the admission of her statements.
The appeals court further found the defendant’s statements were not different from her mother’s statements, which the trial court found were not credible. There was sufficient evidence supporting the conviction even without the defendant’s statements. The appeals court found there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that she had committed the charged crime, even if her statements to the officers were not considered. The appeals court found the results would not have been different if the statements had been excluded and admitting them, if it was an error, was harmless. The appeals court affirmed the conviction.
Because the court applies a totality of the circumstances test when the juvenile is older than 12, a juvenile’s ability to waive his or her own rights without a parent or attorney present will depend on the facts of the case. To ensure a child’s rights are protected, parents should seek the counsel of an experienced Washington juvenile criminal defense attorney if the child is suspected of a crime. If you believe the police may question your child, call Blair & Kim, PLLC at 206-622-6562, to set up an appointment as soon as possible.