AuthorWigler, Caitlyn

INTRODUCTION 1426 I. BACKGROUND 1427 A. The History of Juvenile Interrogation Law 1427 B. Continued Recognition That Juveniles Are Different 1431 II. THE PREVALENCE OF FALSE CONFESSIONS, PARTICULARLY 1433 AMONG YOUTH III. VIEWING INTERROGATION TACTICS THROUGH A CONTRACTUAL LENS 1436 A. Miranda Does Not Manifest Voluntariness 1437 B. The Reid Method Unduly Influences Youth Suspects 1439 C. Maximization Techniques: Intimidation, Confrontation, and 1440 Extreme Pressure Can Result in Undue Influence Through Over-Persuasion 1. Isolation: A Contributing Factor to Undue Influence 1443 Through Over-Persuasion 2. Misrepresentation: A Type of Undue Influence 1444 Through Over-Persuasion D. Minimization Techniques: Feigning Friendship, Solidarity, 1447 and Leniency Can Result in Undue Influence Through Abuse of Trust IV. EMBRACING CONTRACT PRINCIPLES TO PROMPT A SHIFT FROM 1450 CONFESSION-SEEKING TACTICS TO INFORMATION-SEEKING TACTICS A. The PEACE Method: A Move Towards Preserving the 1452 Voluntariness of Confessions INTRODUCTION

Recognition that juveniles are limited in their decisionmaking informs most areas of the law. In recent years, the Supreme Court has afforded enhanced protections to youth in the criminal context due to their developmental immaturity and heightened state of vulnerability. But the current legal framework surrounding interrogations and the admissibility of confessions does not sufficiently protect youth from coercive interrogation practices.

Due process requires that a confession be voluntary, with voluntariness determined by a totality of the circumstances test. This standard aims to protect vulnerable suspects from coercive practices, but it is too vague to give useful guidance to both judges and police officers about the ways in which youth are different from adults. This can leave children subject to coercive interrogation tactics, resulting in involuntary and often false confessions that courts nonetheless regularly admit.

The inadequacy of the due process voluntariness standard demands a reevaluation of how the law's protective function can be improved. Contract principles--which strive to protect a party's autonomy while also protecting that party from exploitation--can inform possible solutions to rebalance the power dynamic between youth suspects and adult interrogators. In contract law, the crux of proper bargaining is voluntary assent. But assent loses its legal effect where a superior party exerts undue influence or misrepresents material information to get it, thereby overcoming the weaker party's will and stripping the agreement of its voluntary quality. Applying voluntary-assent contract principles to the interrogation of juveniles in criminal cases might yield useful insights into whether current standards for juvenile interrogations meet due process standards.

This Comment argues that contract principles, which protect vulnerable adults from coercion and misrepresentation in their everyday bargaining, can inform due process protections for youth under criminal interrogation. To this end, a confession should be deemed involuntary if it was obtained by undue influence--in the form of extreme pressure or abuse of trust--or by misrepresentation. This will add substance to the current voluntariness standard, giving judges and police officers more guidance about proper police conduct. It will also prompt a shift from confession-seeking interrogation techniques, like the Reid Method, in favor of information-seeking techniques, like the PEACE Method.

This Comment proceeds in four parts. Part I explores the history of juvenile interrogation law, the inadequacy of the current totality of the circumstances test, and the Supreme Court's recognition that children need additional safeguards to meet the Constitution's due process requirements. Part II discusses the prevalence of false confessions, the factors that contribute to false confessions, and the developmental differences between juveniles and adults that make youth suspects more prone to giving false confessions.

Part III views current interrogation law through a contractual lens to highlight how the current voluntariness standard is failing to protect juveniles from coercive police tactics. More specifically, it explores how certain interrogation techniques violate key voluntariness requirements in contract law, inducing involuntary, and often false, confessions. Part IV explains how embracing contract principles to help assess the voluntariness of a juvenile confession will help protect youth from due process violations and bring interrogation law in line with other areas of the law. Knowing that a judge may deem a confession involuntary if undue influence or misrepresentation occur provides straightforward guidance to officers and incentives to abandon coercive tactics. In this section, I will also introduce the PEACE Method of interviewing, which complies with the voluntariness principles imported by contract law, as a viable alternative to the Reid Method. This Comment concludes that these changes are warranted by the disproportionate number of false confessions obtained from youth, the science explaining that developmental differences cause this disproportionality, and the legal recognition that youth defendants require additional safeguards.


    1. The History of Juvenile Interrogation Law

      Affording enhanced protections to juvenile suspects during interrogations is not a novel idea. In 1948, the Court decided Haley v. Ohio, invalidating a juvenile's confession as involuntary, and thus inadmissible, for the first time. (1) The suspect was fifteen years old, interrogated by as many as six officers, and the interrogation lasted from midnight until his confession around 5:00 am. (2) A plurality concluded these circumstances were such that his confession was involuntary due to coercion. (3) The Court recognized that children are more susceptible to police pressures, declaring, "when, as here, a mere child--an easy victim of the law--is before us, special care in scrutinizing the record must be used." (4) Fourteen years later, the Court echoed this reasoning in Gallegos v. Colorado. (5) The Court found the confession of a fourteen-year-old boy, who was detained for five days without being advised of his rights or the ability to see a lawyer or parent, to be involuntary. (6) The Court noted the power disparity between the interrogator and the teenage defendant and reasoned that the defendant could not "be compared with an adult in full possession of his senses and knowledgeable of the consequences of his admissions." (7)

      In deciding these cases, the Court relied on the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which has provided a constitutional limit on police interrogations since the 1930s. (8) Due process requires that a confession be voluntary, meaning that the confession be made freely, and not be the product of coercion that overcomes the will of the individual. (9) In determining voluntariness, courts apply a totality of the circumstances test, which requires judges to evaluate "both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation." (10)

      Factors that judges take into account include the suspect's age, education, the length of detention, the nature of the questioning, and the use of physical force. (11) Aside from the use of physical force, however, there is no particular tactic that, standing alone, renders a statement involuntary. (12) Instead, judges must "throw all of these factors into a hat, mix them up in a totality of the circumstances approach, reach in and attempt to pull out the answer to a question that can never be answered with confidence by a judge, psychiatrist, or magician." (13) This abstract test--taking into account this laundry list of factors--can lead to arbitrary and inconsistent decisions. (14)

      Shortly after Gallegos, the Supreme Court recognized the shortcomings of the voluntariness standard and supplemented this nebulous standard with the Fifth Amendment's protections against self-incrimination found in Miranda v. Arizona.^ The Miranda Court decided that preventative measures were necessary to protect suspects from coercion inherent in custodial interrogations, reasoning that "[u]nless adequate protective devices are employed to dispel the compulsion inherent in custodial surroundings, no statement obtained from the defendant can truly be the product of his free choice." (16) Therefore, under Miranda, officers are required to warn suspects of their right to silence and counsel before proceeding with any custodial interrogation. (17) The following year, the Court extended these protections to youth in In re Gault. (18)

      The Gault Court saw custodial interrogations as even more coercive for young suspects. It declared that "admissions and confessions of juveniles require special caution," (19) and therefore, "the greatest care must be taken to assure that the admission was voluntary, in the sense not only that it was not coerced or suggested, but also that it was not the product of ignorance of rights or of adolescent fantasy, fright or despair." (20)

      Following these cases, which placed additional constitutional limits on interrogation practices, Miranda-based Fifth Amendment claims--not voluntariness claims--have become the primary vehicle for efforts to suppress confessions. (21) However, where due process voluntariness arguments are still made, courts weigh valid Miranda waivers heavily without engaging in an evaluation of the tactics used during the interrogation itself. (22)

      This heavy reliance on Miranda is problematic not only because it detracts from a thorough due process evaluation, but also because the development of key case law relating to juveniles' Miranda rights predates the scientific findings that youth are developmentally different from adults. (23) In Fare v. Michael C, the Court addressed a juvenile's waiver of Miranda rights for the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT