The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects all of us against self-incrimination. This means that we do not need to provide evidence against ourselves, even if asked by police. If your teenager ever deals with the police inside or outside of school, it is important that they know their rights. This is important so that they do not incriminate themselves. Keep this information in mind when speaking with your kids about police questioning.
Your teenager also has the very same right against self-incrimination. They do not need to admit to anything when being questioned by the police. And it goes without saying, anything that they do say to the police…will be used against them in school and in court.
Police officers, including the “friendly” School Resource Officer, will often attempt to intimidate teens into confessions. Uniforms, badges, and handcuffs are powerful symbols. Police officers are allowed to bully your teen, badger them, threaten them with arrest, and even trick them into talking. Anyone who has seen the documentary “Making a Murderer” knows the lengths that police will go to convince teenagers to confess to crimes. Teens often think that they can talk themselves out of anything and everything. As adults, we know that this is not the case.
What to Do During Police Questioning
Your teen has the right to refuse to answer police questions. If your teen is being investigated for a crime, they have the right to a lawyer. They should consult with a lawyer before they say anything to the police.
Connecticut has several laws that offer protection for teenagers confronted and questioned by the police. The age of your teenager will determine the amount of protection they receive.
If under 16 years-old, the police cannot question your teenager without you being present. Once you are advised:
- Your teenager has a right to an attorney. If you are unable to afford a lawyer, one will be appointed on your teenager’s behalf.
- Your teenager has the right to refuse to make any statements.
- Any statements that your teenager does make can be used against them in court.
If either 16 or 17 years-old, the police can question your teenager. But, this happens only after they have reasonably tried to contact you first, and your teenager waives their rights. A “waiver” involves your teenager being informed of his or her rights, and then deciding to speak to the police anyway. Those rights include:
- The right to contact his or her parent(s) and to have a parent present during the interview.
- The right to an attorney. Or, if unable to afford a lawyer, one will be appointed on their behalf.
- The right to refuse to make any statement(s) to the police.
- Any statement that they do make can be used against them in court.
If your teen does waive their rights and speaks to the police without you being present, a judge will review the “totality of the circumstances” surrounding the waiver. This will help decide whether the statement will be admissible in court.
If your teen is 18 years-old or older, they are treated like adults. No attempt to contact you needs to be made by the police before they question your teenager.
If your teenager is just a witness, or is the victim of a crime, your presence is not required. But, most police officers still follow the rules in case your teen says something incriminating.
These protections only apply if your teenager is prosecuted in juvenile court. They do not apply if your teenager’s case is transferred to adult criminal court. But the police do not assume that the case will be transferred, so most police officers follow these laws no matter how serious a crime they are investigating.
A principal, teacher, guidance counselor, or other school official can question your teenager about suspected criminal conduct. Anything your teenager says in response can be repeated to the police and used against them in court. However, if the school official is specifically acting as an agent of the police, then the protections still apply.