The juvenile and adult criminal justice systems share some similarities, but are sometimes quite different in practice. In many cases, people who have not reached the age of majority, 18 years old, go through criminal proceedings in juvenile court without a jury.
On the other hand, however, people who have not turned 18 can still be tried as an adult for some charges. In effect, a teenager could be put through the same process as a grown adult.
A report uncovers one key aspect of criminal investigations and proceedings that demonstrates just how different juvenile and adult cases can be and how they should be treated.
One of the most noted criminal cases from the late 1980s involved a group of five teenage boys who were convicted of rape. The “Central Park jogger case,” as it became known, received even more attention when the teens were acquitted years later. The problem: The teenagers were forced into false confessions.
Research underscores this problem. An academic review found that 42 percent of exonerations for juveniles came about as the result of false confessions. For adults, the rate came in at a much lower 13 percent.
According to one analysis, the problem is that police use the same interrogation techniques on kids and adults. Teenagers are very susceptible to suggestion, so the idea of guilt can be drilled into their heads. In other words, under the stress of interrogation, teens could be convinced that they are responsible for a crime they actually had no part in.
Determining whether or not a confession was coerced or inaccurate can be very difficult. This is especially true if a person provides details of how they committed a criminal act, no matter how false it actually is. As such, it often takes an experienced legal professional to carefully examine arrest and interrogation records to ensure that police didn’t resort to unfair tactics to get the verdict they want.
Source: Pacific Standard, “How Can We Prevent False Confessions From Kids and Teenagers?” Lauren Kirchner, June 17, 2014