Juvenile Crimes: Admissibility of a Juvenile Confession

By Maynard & Sumner, LLC of Maynard & Sumner, LLC posted in Juvenile Crimes on Tuesday, October 2, 2012.

On September 25, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a 13-year-old boy’s confession to the juvenile crime of aggravated sexual assault outside the presence of his father was admissible in case of State In the Interest of A.W. The Court rendered that the confession was admissible because the father willingly and voluntarily left the room during the interrogation and the questioning comported with the highest standards of fundamental fairness and due process.

In the State of New Jersey, the Court of New Jersey created specific guidelines to determine whether a juvenile’s confession is voluntary. In State v. Presha, 163 N.J. 304 (2000), the court set forth the following factors when reviewing the admissibility of a juvenile confession:

  1. The suspect’s age, education, and intelligence
  2. Advice as to constitutional rights (where the Miranda warnings administered?)
  3. Length of detention
  4. Whether the questioning occurred over a prolonged period of time and was it repeated
  5. Was physical punishment or mental exhaustion involved
  6. The suspect’s previous encounters with the law

The law presumes that confessions by juveniles 14 years of age and younger are inadmissible if the parent is not present, unless the parent is “unwilling to be present or truly unavailable.” In the case of A.W., the juvenile, age 13, requested his father to leave. The father voluntarily left the room. On appeal, the juvenile crimes defense attorney argued that not only was the father not present, but the child confessed to the crime only after the officer repeatedly cut him off when he tried to proclaim his innocence.

The Supreme Court analyzed the videotapes of the questioning leading up to the confession and determined that the questioning was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The officer conducted the questioning by means of the highest fundamental standards, and that the father left the room on the son request. After considering all of the factors relevant to admissibility, the court affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision.

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