Juvenile Inmates

The Rights of Minors to Remain Silent and to See a Lawyer

For purposes of criminal law, the age at which you cease to be a minor varies by state, from fifteen to seventeen.  In most states, including Missouri, it's seventeen.² However, at any age, if you are alleged to have committed a serious offense such as murder, sale of drugs, robbery, rape or assault, or if you are a repeat offender, the juvenile court may certify you as an adult and transfer you to the adult criminal system. At age 12, the juvenile court can also certify you as an adult for other serious crimes, such as stealing a car, drug possession and carrying a weapon.

Minors who’ve been arrested have the rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present during questioning. Law enforcement agents rather frequently say, “You’re just a kid—you don’t have any rights,” or “You’re underage, the Constitution doesn’t apply to you.” These are lies, meant to intimidate you. So if you’ve been arrested, don’t lose your nerve—just stick to the Magic Words: I’m going to remain silent. I would like to see a lawyer.

Many adults believe they have the right to require a minor to answer questions. They’re wrong.

• Police and probation officers don’t have the legal right to order
minors to answer questions.
• Teachers and school officials don’t have the legal right to order
a student to answer questions.
• Parents don’t have the legal right to order their kid to answer
questions.

If you’re a kid in trouble and adults are pushing you to answer questions, say nothing but: I’m going to remain silent. I would like to see a lawyer. (It’s a form of resisting authority that will actually have good consequences, from a legal standpoint.)

Minors, in some states, have the right to have a parent or guardian² present during questioning. If you’re arrested as a minor, don’t worry about figuring out for sure whether you have this right—just go ahead and ask to have your parent with you if you’re going to be questioned. It can’t do any harm, and it may prevent your being interrogated, or provide your lawyer with ammunition for fighting your case.

• Minors who are taken into custody should say: I’m going to
remain silent. I would like to see a lawyer. I want to have my
mother/father/guardian present if I’m being questioned.

Now, your parent or guardian may refuse to help you, and you can’t force them to do so. However, it won’t hurt to ask for them. The one thing to watch out for is that sometimes parents or guardians mistakenly pressure their kid to talk to the police, before consulting with a lawyer. Don’t do it! If you’re in trouble, make sure to talk to a criminal defense lawyer before you follow the “advice” of police, probation officers, teachers or parents.

If a minor’s family is low-income, the judge will typically appoint a lawyer from the public defender’s office to represent the minor for free. If the family does have the money to hire an attorney, but refuses to do so, the court will normally appoint the public defender and may then bill the family for legal fees.

1.  The ages at which you are eligible to drink, drive, smoke, vote, or register for Selective Service can't be used to predict the age of majority with respect to criminal law.  Check with a criminal defense lawyer, so that you'll know the correct age for your particular state.
2.  If you're a minor make sure you know who your guardian is—and if there isn't one, ask that a guardian be selected.  Get your own copy of the document that names your guardian, and keep it where you'll be able to find it in an emergency.  (If a particular guardian hasn't been designated, one of your adult relatives will normally be given custody of you, if your parents aren't available.)

See other Miranda Rights related pages:


Juveniles Should Be Rehabilitated, Not Punished

Thousands of children are lead down a career path of criminal behavior in large part due to the failure of our punitive justice system. Children who enter the juvenile jail system are 60% more likely to become repeat offenders and therefore more likely to enter the prison system as adults.

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