New Bill on Interrogating Minors Moved by Senate Criminal Justice Committee

January 28, 2022 Criminal Defense, Juvenile Offenses

Being accused of a crime and having to experience the legal system can be a daunting and scary experience. If you’ve been accused of a crime, you will likely have to be interrogated by law enforcement officers. This is when they will ask you questions about your criminal case, trying to get you to give up information or confess to the crime.

In some instances, police officers use deceptive tactics in order to coerce the defendant to give up information or confess. While some defendants are aware of these tactics and know how to avoid walking into a trap, it can be especially hard for minors to navigate in these uncharted waters. The fear of going to prison and ruining their future can make juveniles in interrogation situations overthink the questions they are being asked, leading them to give information or confess to something they did not do.

A new bill is being passed by the Senate regarding instances where law enforcement interrogates minors. The bill is meant to prohibit deceptive practices by law enforcement when interrogating minors. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee met on the first day of the legislative session to discuss the proposed bill. From the meeting, it was agreed that a confession from a minor would not be considered acceptable if there was any proof of the interrogator engaging in methods of deception.

We will take a closer look at the bill itself, deception in the interrogation process, and what the reactions were to the bill.

What is the Bill?

The proposed bill, SB 668, named the Custodial Interrogation of Minors, provides that a confession given by a minor would not be admissible if it was made during a custodial interrogation where the tactics of deception were used. The state attorney would then have the burden of proving that the confession was voluntary, and that no deception was used.  

What is deception? In this case, it would be when false facts or evidence were given by a law enforcement officer in order to get a confession out of a minor. You may be wondering, is it legal for a police officer to lie to a defendant, especially a minor? The answer may come as surprising to some, but law enforcement officers are legally allowed to use forms of psychological manipulation to try and receive information from defendants.

Custodial setting is defined as the place where the defendant is being held in custody. This can include correctional institutions, juvenile detention facilities, and jails. Although the setting of the interrogation seems unimportant, it is a factor that could potentially lead to a minor eliciting an incriminating response.  

Under a study of the Ethics of Police Deception by Ohio University, there are several common areas of deception in law enforcement. Some deceptive tactics include police officers using wiretaps, informants, stings, and undercover operations. All of these tactics involve lying to the defendants under the belief that they are involved in criminal activity. Under the police officer, there must be several major assumptions:

  • Assumption of Guilt – In searches and interrogations, guilt must be assumed as a necessary working premise.
  • Assumption of ‘Worst of all Possible Guilt’ – The law enforcement officer believes the one who has the most to hide will try the hardest to evade responsibility.
  • Assumption of the ‘Great Guilty Place’ – The officer believes that people have committed many crimes for which they were not caught.

There are three stages of the detecting process, all in which deception can take place. The three stages include the investigation, interrogation, and court testimony. During the investigation stage, law enforcement officers are trained in deceptive tactics. The line between what is and isn’t acceptable for police to use during investigation is drawn with entrapment. The overall goal of the investigation is to obtain factual information and evidence about a crime and receive the confession from the person who is responsible.

According to the Innocence Project, minors are especially vulnerable to police tactics that are considered deceptive. One explanation of this is that parts of the brain that oversee judgement, planning, and decision-making are not yet fully developed until a person reaches their mid-twenties.

Under the new Senate Bill 668, “the presumption of inadmissibility of a confession may be overcome by a preponderance of the evidence that the confession was voluntarily given based on the totality of the circumstances.” Therefore, if this evidentiary standard is not met, the confession will be deemed inadmissible. Courts are already meant to consider whether a confession from a juvenile was received without a written waiver of the Miranda rights, or without the suspect’s ability to confer with parents.

The new Senate Bill is meant to protect juveniles when they are under investigation. Working with an experience defense attorney is the best way to ensure that you or your juvenile child is not taken advantage of during the interrogation process.

What are the Responses?

Senate Bill 668 received a 7-0 vote by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, reaching its approval on January 11th, 2022. Senator Janet Cruz of Tampa commented that in Florida court rooms, age is already considered a relevant factor. The new bill is simply a minor adjustment to what is already present.

Lady Lake Senator Dennis Baxley, however, wasn’t fully convinced with Cruz’s stance. “Is any law enforcement here to speak to this?” He questioned.

There was no one else who stepped forward in opposition during the meeting. Cruz assured Baxley by stating that she had worked directly with critics. “We’ve done some work on the bill, and we don’t seem to find any extreme opposition,” was Cruz’s response.

The next step is facing hearings with the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee and Rules before fulling reaching the Senate floor. In addition, there is a companion bill, HB 109 from Orlando Representative Travis McCurdy, which has not yet been heard. For more information on HB 109, check out our blog.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Going through the legal process when accused of a crime is an extremely high stress situation. This is especially true for minors. Whether you are a minor who is trying to figure out how to proceed in the legal process, or you’re the parent of a minor who has been accused of a crime, you may feel as if you have nowhere to turn. The first step should be reaching out to a defense attorney in your area. Finding the right legal guidance can make all the difference in a case, and a skilled defense attorney can help you throughout the entire process. A defense attorney can also help to ensure the juvenile’s rights are respected, and there are no instances of deception during the interrogation process. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have worked with clients of all ages, from all walks of life. They know what it takes to defend your case and are prepared to stand in your corner and fight for your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 today and receive a free consultation with a Tallahassee defense lawyer regarding your case.

This article was written by Karissa Key

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