Can Florida Police Lie to Juvenile Suspects During Questioning?

While there are laws against perjury in all states, police in Florida are allowed to lie to suspects – including juveniles – during questioning. Any confessions obtained during these deceptive interactions can be used against the defendant. police interrogation

Recognizing that juveniles are especially vulnerable when faced with these types of interactions (and often taught to trust police), one Florida lawmaker has filed a bill that would render the confession of a juvenile inadmissible if it was obtained by police using deception.

Frankly, SB 890 is unlikely to pass. A similar measure last year failed unanimously, and this one does not yet have a companion bill in the state House.

But it does bring up an important point that our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers often must broach with suspects who opt to speak with police before asking for a lawyer: That it’s almost always a very bad idea. This is especially true for custodial interrogations involving juvenile suspects. We would agree that they are deserving of some additional legal protections, but as of now, they don’t have it.

There is a common – and generally judicially accepted – practice by law enforcement to lie without consequence to suspects during questioning. They make false promises of lighter sentences in exchange for confessions. They misrepresent the evidence in order to get them to confess. They’ll say a co-defendant has confessed when in reality they haven’t. These tactics are even more problematic in the context of juvenile cases because youth are more vulnerable – physically and psychologically. They are more susceptible to suggestibility. This has been known to lead to false confessions – especially with kids and teens.

Just take the case of the Exonerated Five, previously known as the Central Park Five – each told by police that their friends had already implicated them in a crime and that they’d face death unless they confessed. They did confess – each giving completely different stories – only to later be exonerated.

When there is a confession or self-incriminating statement given to police during interrogation, it almost inevitably leads to a conviction or plea. That is why so many Florida criminal defense lawyers are so adamant about suspects avoiding interrogation without their attorney present.

One argument against such tactics – particularly with young people – is that because of these additional considerations, lying to juveniles who are more likely to believe them may violate their due process rights. Law schools have published articles written by legal scholars strongly eschewing such deception.

The Innocence Project recently posted an article titled, “Five Facts About Police Deception and Youth You Should Know.” Among these:

  • It’s usually legal for police to lie when they’re questioning suspects, juvenile or otherwise. In fact, police are actually trained to use psychological tactics and strategies to heighten suspects’ anxiety and stress and manipulate their vulnerabilities and weaknesses in order to obtain a confession. Although the state has a vested interest in obtaining the truth, there are few protections for suspects who may be vulnerable – including not just juveniles but those with conditions like intellectual disabilities or dementia.
  • False confessions are the No. 1 cause of wrongful convictions in this country, accounting for about 1/3 of them.
  • Minors are especially vulnerable to lying during police interrogations because their brains aren’t fully formed. In particular, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making, judgment, and future planning are immature. Juvenile suspects have an especially high rate of false confessions.
  • Some states are beginning to rethink deception during juvenile custodial interrogations. This bill in Florida is one such measure, but others have been introduced in Oregon, Illinois, New York, and Delaware. (Some are considering outlawing police deception altogether, not solely with respect to juveniles.)

It is worth noting that juveniles do have the 5th Amendment right, per In re Gault, against self-incrimination during delinquency proceedings. That means police are supposed to provide juveniles with a Miranda Warning prior to custodial interrogations. The courts are also instructed to recognize that juveniles aren’t the functional equivalent of adults when they’re being questioned by police. Judges are supposed to ascertain whether confessions by juveniles are obtained knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily – which are arguably very subjective factors.

It’s a mistake to presume that juvenile proceedings won’t have a significant impact on a young person’s life – especially because juveniles can be charged as adults in some cases. Sometimes, this happens after the youth has been booked and questioned in juvenile detention (leading to the erroneous presumption that that’s where the matter will ultimately be handled). It’s critically important for teens to be adequately represented in the juvenile justice process. Our Broward juvenile defense lawyers can help.

Additional Resources:

Police Interrogation of Juveniles: An Empirical Study of Policy and Practice, Fall 2006, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

More Blog Entries:

How Do I Bail Someone Out of Jail in Fort Lauderdale? Dec. 15, 2022, Fort Lauderdale Juvenile Defense Lawyer Blog

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