Juvenile Miranda Warnings

Published date01 March 2012
Date01 March 2012
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, Vol. 39 No. 3, March 2012 229-249
DOI: 10.1177/0093854811431934
© 2012 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Authors Rogers, Drogin and Fiduccia are working on the Standardized Assessment of
Miranda Abilities that is under contract and will be eventually published for use with adult populations. It does
not pose a conflict of interest to the current study involving juvenile Miranda warnings. This study was sup-
ported by grants (0615934 and 0817689) from Law and Social Sciences Program, National Science Foundation
to Richard Rogers as the principal investigator. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations
expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National
Science Foundation. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Richard Rogers, Department
of Psychology, University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle #311280, Denton, TX 76203-5017; email: Richard.
Perfunctory Rituals or Procedural Safeguards?
University of North Texas
Harvard Medical School
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
University of North Texas
The American Bar Association, via its newly adopted policy, seeks fundamental changes in procedural justice with respect to
juvenile Miranda warnings. It calls for understandable Miranda warnings to educate youth in custody regarding the relevant
Constitutional protections. In surveying prosecutors and public defenders, the authors collected 293 juvenile Miranda warn-
ings that are intended specifically for youthful offenders. Length and reading levels were analyzed and compared to an earlier
survey. Nearly two thirds (64.9%) of these warnings were very long (> 175 words), which hinders Miranda comprehension.
In addition, most juvenile warnings (91.6%) require reading comprehension higher than a 6th-grade level; 5.2% exceed a
12th-grade reading level. Combining across two surveys, more than half of juvenile Miranda warnings are highly problematic
because of excessive lengths or difficult reading comprehension. However, simple and easily read Miranda components were
identified that could be used to improve juvenile advisements. Breaking new ground, Miranda waivers were examined for
both juveniles and their parents/interested adults. Interestingly, most juvenile versions emphasized waivers in positive terms
(e.g., “an opportunity”) and downplayed the potential for negative consequences.
Keywords: Miranda; Miranda warnings; Miranda waivers; juvenile suspects; 5th Amendment protections
In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court of the United States held that any time
a criminal suspect is taken into police custody, the suspect must be given a Miranda
advisement or some other fully effective means. Regarding the content, it affirmed the
He must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything
he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an
attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any
questioning if he so desires. Opportunity to exercise these rights must be afforded to him
throughout the interrogation. (p. 479)
Fragments of the Miranda content have entered the popular consciousness via innumer-
able police dramas during the course of the last four and a half decades. Its five components
(i.e., Right to Silence, Risks of Waiving Silence, Right to Counsel, Provision of Free Legal
Services, and Assertion of Rights at Any Time) must be conveyed in “clear and unequivocal
language” (Miranda v. Arizona, 1966, p. 468). Opening the flood gates to different ver-
sions, the Supreme Court affirmed in California v. Prysock (1981) that “no talismanic
incantation was required to satisfy its strictures” (p. 359). As a result, hundreds of different
warnings were proliferated (Rogers, Hazelwood, Harrison, Sewell, & Shuman, 2008),
often replete with complex terms and dense phraseology well beyond the expected compre-
hension of most juvenile suspects, to say nothing of those who may also be mentally dis-
ordered, cognitively disabled, or otherwise challenged with respect to the English language
(Rogers, 2008, 2011).
On February 11, 2010, the American Bar Association adopted a new policy calling for
“the development of simplified Miranda warning language for use with juvenile arrestees.”
In a report proposing and recommending adoption of the policy, Hynes (2010) presented
evidence that complex language and difficult reading levels are major obstacles to Miranda
comprehension for most juvenile offenders, and that these pervasive problems are further
magnified when warnings are applied to preteen suspects. The report looked with approval
upon modified Miranda warnings that emphasize either a comprehensive understanding or
easily-understood, concise language.
Hynes (2010) cites State v. Benoit (1985), a decision by the New Hampshire Supreme
Court that recommends model language for contributing to a juvenile arrestee’s compre-
hensive understanding of Miranda rights. The Benoit warning is distinguished from most
other Miranda warnings by its provision of two explicit choices for either exercising or
relinquishing Miranda rights. It emphasizes Constitutional safeguards such as “you will not
be punished for deciding to use these rights” (p. 22) and “things you say to the lawyer can-
not be used in court to prove what you may have done” (p. 23). Two structural features of
the Benoit warning deserve comment. On one hand, it is written at an easily read level, that
is, a Flesch-Kincaid grade level (i.e., minimum level for > 75% comprehension) of 4.4. On
the other, its lengthy efforts to explain the rights in question result in a combined Benoit
warning and waiver of a daunting 713 words.
In contrast to the prolixity of Benoit, Rogers and his colleagues (Rogers, Hazelwood,
Sewell, Shuman, & Blackwood, 2008) proposed simplified warnings that emphasize con-
cise wording while maintaining easy reading comprehension. The simplest version pro-
posed by Rogers, Hazelwood, Sewell, et al. (2008) is 75 words, written at a Flesch-Kincaid
grade level of 2.0. Even when a parent (or “interested adult”) provision is added, the num-
bers increase only to 102 words at a grade level of 2.3. These contrasting views—Benoit
and Rogers, Hazelwood, Sewell, et al.—represent two very different approaches to improv-
ing youthful suspects’ comprehension of juvenile Miranda warnings.
Helms (2007) contacted state and federal agencies and received 21 juvenile Miranda
warnings. When examining their Flesch-Kincaid reading levels, he found juvenile Miranda

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