Miranda in Actual Juvenile Interrogations

Published date01 March 2016
Date01 March 2016
Subject MatterArticles
Miranda in Actual Juvenile
Interrogations: Delivery,
Waiver, and Readability
Hayley M. D. Cleary
and Sarah Vidal
Though laboratory and self-report research proliferates on youths’ Miranda comprehension and
reasoning, little is known about how Miranda actually takes place inside the juvenile interrogation
room. This study is among the first to present data on the Miranda processes and outcomes that
occur in actual juvenile interrogations. Fifty-seven electronically recorded police interrogations with
juvenile suspects were coded using software designed especially for observational research; this arti-
cle examines a subset of those interrogations (N¼28) that contained a filmed Miranda component.
Key variables include the manner of Miranda delivery, youths’ behavioral indicators of comprehen-
sion, and Miranda waiver rates. Additionally, the language used to present Miranda warnings to juve-
nile suspects was transcribed and analyzed. Results indicate that Miranda delivery typically occurred
in a neutral manner, immediately upon interview commencement or after a brief period of booking
questions. Miranda warnings were presented in various formats (verbal, written, and combination),
and youth-specific modifications to the standard Miranda language were uncommon. The Miranda
waiver rate in our subsample was 90%. The specific Miranda language used in these interrogations
read approximately at a seventh-grade reading level. Implications of Miranda delivery, waiver, and
readability are discussed.
juvenile justice, police processes, law enforcement/security, legal issues, courts/law
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court held that criminal suspects in police custody must be advised of
certain rights to protect themselves against self-incrimination (Miranda v. Arizona, 1966). While the
same Miranda rights are extended to adolescent suspects, researchers have questioned whether cog-
nitive and social vulnerabilities unique to this developmental period may disadvantage youth in the
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA
Department of Psychology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Hayley M. D. Cleary, L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, P.O.
Box 842028, Richmond, VA 23284, USA.
Email: hmcleary@vcu.edu
Criminal Justice Review
2016, Vol. 41(1) 98-115
ª2014 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016814538650
interrogation room relative to their adult counterparts (Grisso, 1981; Viljoen & Roesch, 2005).
Addressing this question requires greater knowledge about the manner and context in which these
rights are administered as well as adolescent suspects’ behavior in actual interrogations. To date,
most research on juvenile suspects and Miranda has focused on youths’ capacities to comprehend
and waive their Miranda rights and has occurred in laboratory-based settings using self-report or
vignette measures. Very little is known about the actual context of the Miranda exchange between
adolescent suspects and police investigators—for example, the strategies police employ to obtain
Miranda waivers, youths’ responses to those strategies, or the frequency with which youth waive
their Miranda rights in real interrogation settings.
Though progress has been made in the domain of youths’ Miranda comprehension as well as the
content of standardized juvenile Miranda language, research has yet to explore fundamental ques-
tions about how Miranda warnings are actually administered to juvenile suspects in real interroga-
tions. Rigid requirements for specific Miranda language do not exist, and departmental templates
vary widely (Rogers, Hazelwood, Sewell, Shuman, & Blackwood, 2008), suggesting that juvenile
suspects may encounter substantially different Miranda experiences. Though minor variations in
wording or framing may seem insignificant, prior research has demonstrated that adolescent sus-
pects often misunderstand even basic components of typical Miranda warnings (Grisso, 1981). It
is important to examine Miranda administration in context in order to document the actual Miranda
experiences youth encounter—from actual police officers—in real interrogation settings. To date,
only a few studies have documented Miranda administration and waiver using actual juvenile cases
(Feld, 2006, 2013).
This study addresses this gap by examining electronically recorded juvenile interrogations to
explore juvenile Miranda warnings in context. First, it characterizes police officers’ portrayal of
Miranda warnings to juveniles, building on the few existing field studies of juveniles and Miranda
(Feld, 2006, 2013) by drawing from a diverse multijurisdictional sample of police agencies. Second,
it adds to vignette-and self-report studies of Miranda waiver (e.g.,Grisso et al., 2003; Viljoen, Klaver,
& Roesch, 2005) by documenting how frequently and in what manner youth waive their Miranda
rights in actual interrogation settings. Finally, the study augments existing research on Miranda
warning readability (Rogers et al., 2008) by generating estimates of approximate reading grade
level and reading difficulty based on warnings delivered in actual interrogations, since the Miranda
language spoken in vivo during interrogations may vary widely from standard department templates.
Literature Review
Juvenile Miranda Delivery and Comprehension
The timing and manner in which police administer Miranda warnings have been the subject of much
debate and speculation. Though Miranda is constitutionally required prior to any accusatory custo-
dial questioning, police are legally permitted to ask routine booking questions (e.g., age, address,
level of education) before warnings are administered and questioning commences (Pennsylvania
v. Muniz, 1990). Some legal scholars have argued that police use this ambiguous preinterrogation
period as an opportunity to establish rapport with the suspect, not only to facilitate conversation, but
especially to encourage Miranda waivers (Feld, 2013; Leo & White, 1999). Rapport building is one
of the numerous tactics police may use to ‘‘predispose’’ suspects to waive their rights, sometimes
quite skillfully; Leo and White (1999) argued that ‘‘interrogators are able to de-emphasize the warn-
ings to such an extent that suspects often perceive that waiver of their rights is the natural and
expected course of action’’ (p. 413).
Because such strategies may be particularly problematic with young suspects, it is important to
examine law enforcement interactions with actual juvenile suspects during interrogations. Currently,
Cleary and Vidal 99

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