A YouTube video from 2021 has sparked the Legal Aid Society to call on Albany to sign into a law a bill that will further protect New Yorkers after they are arrested and during police interrogation.

In the video, an exchange between a police officer and two suspects– one of whom is accompanied by his mother– shows how young people are unable to effectively protect their right to remain silent when being interrogated by law enforcement, even when their parents are present, due to their misunderstanding of the rights.

The Legal Aid Society is arguing that by not fulling understanding the Miranda warnings or the long term consequences of waiving their right, that the law needs to be amended and updated.

They’re calling on Albany to pass and sign into law S.2800/A.5891, legislation that would protect young New Yorkers’ constitutional right to remain silent by providing them counsel before a police interrogation.

The call comes in response to a terribly misguided New York State Court of Appeals decision which found that although a 19-year-old young man repeatedly indicated he wanted to call an attorney, his request was not sufficiently clear to invoke his constitutional right to remain silent. As the dissent noted, “Our Court has imposed a high and unrealistic linguistic burden on criminal defendants – where the intent is clear, but some better choice of words can be imagined….”  

“Due to their developmental stage, oftentimes, youth are unable to fully comprehend Miranda warnings, or the consequences of waiving their right to remain silent. As a result, studies show that young people make false confessions at a much higher rate than adults” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-In-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society. 

“However, pending legislation would address this statewide problem by ensuring that youth have access to counsel prior to a police interrogation. The Legal Aid Society calls on Albany to pass and enact this critical measure into law this session.”

Even more troubling is the Court’s willingness to impose an uncompromising standard despite the young age of the person interrogated.

Background on S.2800/A.5891

The legislation, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assembly Member Latoya Joyner, modifies the Family Court Act and Criminal Procedure Law to ensure that a child under age 18 may only be interrogated by law enforcement after the young person has consulted with counsel, thereby ensuring any waiver of rights under Miranda is genuinely knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. 

The Central Park Five Photo: Twitter

Ever since the Exonerated Five were interrogated as youth and coerced into false confessions more than 30 years ago, New York State has failed to curb deceptive interrogation tactics used by the police. 

Instead, young people, who lack the capacity to fully understand Miranda warnings and fully appreciate the long term consequences of their decisions, continue to be subjected to coercive interrogations by law enforcement.

The bill, S.2800/A.5891, would ensure that all youth, including the predominantly Black and Latino youth who are too often the targets of police interrogation, have the benefit of an attorney protecting their right to remain silent.  

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