New California Law Significantly Limits the Ability of Police to Question Suspects Under 17 Years of Age

Written By: Joseph P. Buckley
Oct 05, 2022

California has enacted legislation that significantly limits law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes committed by individuals 17 years old or younger

Clearly there should be safeguards for the questioning of all individuals suspected of criminal activities, especially juveniles and individuals with mental and/or psychological impairments. The courts have long established that physical abuse of the subject, making promises of leniency, threats of harm, threats of inevitable consequences, denial of rights, denial of the chance to satisfy their physical needs are all unacceptable and can render a confession inadmissible.

Legislation recently enacted into law in California, however, severely restricts an investigator’s ability to question a subject 17 years old or younger and will significantly impair their ability to obtain admissible confessions. The new law prohibits law enforcement from utilizing questioning techniques that the courts find to be proper and acceptable.

The California law prohibits the investigator from

  • minimizing the moral seriousness of the offense
  • asking a subject if this is the first time he committed an act like this or if he/she had done it on previous occasions
  • asking a subject if he/she planned on committing the crime or if it was something that happened on the spur of the moment
  • asking a subject any question or making any statement that "rely on a presumption of guilt”
  • making repeated assertions of their involvement in the commission of the crime

This new legislation will significantly diminish law enforcement’s ability to solve criminal acts committed by individuals 17 years old or younger.

Several states have enacted legislation that prohibits investigators from misrepresenting evidence that implicates the suspect when questioning juvenile offenders:

Illinois has enacted legislation which states that "An oral, written or sign language confession of a minor, who at the time of the commission of the offense was under 18 years of age, made as a result of a custodial interrogation....shall be presumed to be inadmissible....if, during the custodial interrogation, a law enforcement officer or juvenile officer knowingly engages in deception."(Deception is defined as "the knowing communication of false facts about evidence or unauthorized statements regarding leniency.")

Utah has enacted legislation which states that "If a child is subject to a custodial interrogation for an offense, a peace officer, or an individual interrogating a child on behalf of a peace officer or a law enforcement agency, may not knowingly: (a) provide false information about evidence that is reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the child; or (b) make an unauthorized statement about leniency for the offense."

Oregon has enacted legislation which states that "A peace officer conducting an interview of a youth (under 18 years of age) in connection with an investigation of an act that, if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime may not use deceit, trickery or artifice, or any other misleading interrogation technique, during the interview."

Washington has enacted legislation which requires that "law enforcement shall provide a juvenile with access to an attorney for consultation, which may be provided in person, by telephone, or by video conference, before the juvenile waives any constitutional rights if a law enforcement officer:(a) Questions a juvenile during a custodial interrogation;(b) Detains a juvenile based on probable cause of involvement in criminal activity....."

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