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Legal expert calls on Hochul for new legislation supporting minors in police custody

CRIME SCENE
Photo by Dean Moses

Zachary Carter, the former U.S Attorney for New York’s Eastern District and the current Chair of Board of Directors at the Legal Aid Society, released an open letter calling on Governor Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie to enact legislation to ensure that young New Yorkers have access to counsel prior to a police interrogation.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assemblymember Latoya Joyner, modifies the Family Court Act and Criminal Procedure Law to ensure that any accused individual under the age of 18 may only be interrogated by law enforcement officials after the young person has spoken with legal counsel, thereby ensuring any waiver of rights under Miranda is genuinely knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.

“Without appropriately enhanced protections, interrogations of children can have serious negative consequences including coerced, false and unreliable statements and confessions and consequent wrongful convictions, resulting in diminished public confidence in the legal system, and an erosion of public safety,” Carter said in the letter May 16. “Requiring consultation with an attorney before the right to remain silent can be waived by children under 18 ensures that any such waiver will meet the constitutional standard of being knowing, intelligent and voluntary.”

Past legal cases, such as that of the Exonerated Five, demonstrate how using confessions or interrogation techniques that can be coercive or suggestive can devastate the lives of young people – especially minors who are unaware of or don’t understand their right to counsel and then wrongfully confess to a crime they never committed. 

“As someone who lost years of my life as a result of outrageous treatment by the police as an adolescent, including a coerced confession, I know how essential this bill is,” said Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated Five, earlier this month. “It’s particularly devastating that, decades later, these egregious practices are still allowed. This critical law is long overdue, and Albany must enact it this session.” 

Other legal experts are also pushing for this legislation to be passed. 

“An unfortunate reality of our current society is that a major portion of juvenile arrests come from under-served communities of our City, mired in poverty and poor education,” said former New York State Family Court Judge, Sidney Gribetz. “In this regard the children and parents affected by police encounters are even more unsophisticated and at a disadvantage to navigate the system, thus placing them more at risk.”

Other experts further emphasized how disproportionately Black and Latinx children are at risk of arrest or incarceration without fully understanding their rights to counsel and to stay silent.

“This legislation would provide long overdue protections for our vulnerable Black and Latinx clients,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society. Young people are not able to fully comprehend their right to remain silent or the consequences of waiving that right. They also are much more likely to falsely confess than adults. By requiring youth to consult with counsel before they can waive their Miranda rights, this bill would ensure that those without the means to hire a private attorney are not disadvantaged. The Legal Aid Society calls on Albany lawmakers to pass this legislation at once.”

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