Parents' Attitudes Toward Juveniles' Rights in Interrogation

Date01 September 1979
Published date01 September 1979
Subject MatterArticles
St. Louis University
Does requiring the presence of parents at pretrial interrogations of juveniles ensure
adequate protection of juveniles’ rights to silence and to retain legal counsel? The study
assessed the attitudes of parents regarding nurturance and self-determination rights for
juveniles—including rights which are relevant to interrogation—for juveniles of two age
groups and of both delinquent and nondelinquent status. Nurturance rights for juveniles
in legal-judicial contexts were strongly endorsed, but most parents did not believe that
juvenile suspects should be allowed to withhold information from police. Parents were
negatively disposed to allowing juveniles to decide regarding waiver or assertion of rights to
silence and to retain legal counsel. The procedure also included a hypothetical situation
examining parents’ advice to juveniles and their rationale regarding waiver of rights. The
results question parents’ abilities to provide meaningful protections for juveniles in
’-he interrogation of juveniles is not a rare event. In a recent
study (Grisso and Pomicter, 1977), 75% of a random sample
of juveniles arrested on felony charges during a two-year period
were asked by police to provide potentially self-incriminating
Authors’ Note: This work was supported by NIMH research grant
MH-27849from the Center for Studies of Crime and Delinquency. The
authors are indebted to Jeanette Ganousis and David Howard of the
National Center for Youth Law for their assistance and comments.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Thomas Grisso, Department of
Psychology, St. Louis University, 221 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO

evidence at the time of their arrests. The consequences of infor-
mation which may derive from such interrogations can be severe,
including the possibilities of lengthy incarcerations in juvenile
correctional facilities or conviction and sentencing in criminal
courts if the juvenile is transferred for trial as an adult.
As a result of In re Gault (1967), juveniles are entitled to rights
which were accorded adults in Miranda v. Arizona (1966): that is,
the rights to avoid self-incrimination and to have legal counsel
before and during police questioning. After being informed of
these rights, the juvenile must waive them knowingly, intel’
ligently, and voluntarily in order for a subsequent confession to
be valid. The mere fact that the suspect is a juvenile does not
invalidate the waiver (Davis, 1975).
A difficult problem associated with the extension of Miranda
rights to juveniles has been the question of juveniles’ competence
to make decisions regarding the waiver or assertion of these
rights. In a study employing special measures of juveniles’
abilities to comprehend the Miranda warnings which police use to
inform suspects of their rights, Grisso and Manoogian (forth-
coming) found that less than one half of juveniles (ages 11-16) in
custody had an adequate understanding of the Miranda rights
warnings as usually presented by police. Many courts have recog-
nized the diminished competence of certain juveniles to waive
rights validly and have urged special scrutiny of juveniles’ inter-
rogations for the presence or absence of appropriate procedural
safeguards. (For a review of such cases, see Davis, 1975; Piersma et
al., 1977; Grisso &
Manoogian, forthcoming.) In West v. United
States (1968), for example, the court suggested a list of circum-
stances to be considered when deciding on the validity of a juven-
ile’s waiver. Among the procedural circumstances was &dquo;whether the
accused is held incommunicado or allowed to consult with rela-
tives, friends, or an attorney&dquo; (399 F.2d at 469).
Subsequent to West, numerous courts have gone further in
requiring that parents be present for a juvenile’s waiver to be
valid.’ Other courts, though failing to adopt a rule per se, have
emphasized the importance of parents’ presence when weighing
the totality of circumstances in each case.2 Some states (such as

Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma) now require by
statute that parents be present at a juvenile’s interrogation.3 Even
with the presence of parents, it is the juvenile who must decide
to waive or retain rights to silence and counsel (although this
issue is not clearly addressed in most statutes). Thus, the trend
toward requiring parents’ presence has been in part an attempt to
protect juveniles in interrogation by assuring that they are
provided the opportunity for advice from parents.
A review of cases which have required or strongly urged the
presence of parents at juveniles’ interrogations reveals that courts
have assumed that either of two general benefits will accrue.
The most frequent rationale has been that parents’ presence will
be a mitigating element to reduce the likelihood of abusive
coercion, or to reduce the pressures which are inherent (even
without malice on the part of police or juvenile officers) in the
status and power differences between the juvenile suspect and the
interrogator.4 The second rationale has been that parents can
provide advice regarding the consequences of waiver which,
because of the juvenile’s immaturity or the emotional nature of
the interrogation circumstances, the juvenile often may not be
able to assess.5
But the assumption that parents can provide adequate pro-
tection for juveniles has been challenged from several quarters.
Legal commentators (Piersma et al., 1977) have claimed that
parents may exert pressure on a juvenile to waive rights because
of their own ignorance, fear, or their anger toward their child.
Numerous courts have noted that some parents might exert
undue influence upon their children to confess because the
parents themselves might not have a sufficient grasp of the con-
sequences of confession.6
Some empirical evidence suggests that parents who are present
at juveniles’ interrogations may provide little or no advice for
juveniles and may have no appreciable effect on the outcome of
police requests for information. In a recent study of 390 inter-
rogations in which parents were present, only about one-third
of the parents offered advice to their children, with 60% of these
parents advising waiver of rights to silence and counsel and about

16% (about 4% of the total sample) advising against waiver.7
Grisso and Pomicter (1977) found that in a random sample of
interrogations of juveniles during a two-year period, 90% resulted
in compliance with police requests for information, and com-
pliance rates were not related to the presence or absence of
In contrast to these observations, courts have clearly moved
toward requiring parents’ presence on the assumption that
parents will provide protection for juvenile suspects. In addition,
courts sometimes have viewed this...

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