How Can We Improve the Juvenile Interrogation Process?

The general public tends to believe that a guilty plea is always a done-deal and that the individual undeniably committed the crime. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. When looking at all the facts, false confessions are far too common within our legal system. Worse, studies continue to prove that juveniles and teens are more likely to provide them.

In fact, wrongful convictions that have been exonerated by DNA evidence show that 42 percent of youth have falsely confessed—compared to just eight percent of legal adults. But how can we avoid these problems without disrupting the legal process? That’s the subject of this TED Talk presented by forensic developmental psychologist Lindsay Mallory.

Preventing a False Confession

As both a researcher and professor, Mallory studies how “kids function in a legal system that was designed for adults.” By looking at the supposed reasoning behind false confessions, she helps shed light on these troubling cases. She uses her presentation to review some of the most startling facts associated with teenagers in our legal system. Then, she poses suggestions for how we might improve the process:

Do we need to stop interviewing with “hints of leniency?” 

Certain anatomical differences between an adolescent brain and an adult brain suggest that some interrogation tactics might be unfair to use with younger individuals. Telling a juvenile that they will receive a lenient verdict for confessing can be especially confusing for them because their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, isn’t fully developed.

This might be why we see so many teenagers choosing to confess instead of fighting their charges. Rather than consider the long-term consequences of a false confession, they might actually view a confession as a way to end the short-term discomfort of a stressful interrogation. While most adults would see this as illogical, a younger person might not be able to comprehend the nuances of these decisions.

Can we provide specialized juvenile interview training for officers?

Child advocacy groups complete specialized training in order to talk with adolescents, yet there are no set rules for police departments dealing with the unique situations of juvenile interrogations. Extra training on a young person’s thinking process might make subsequent false confessions less likely. In order to test this theory, however, there needs to be a new process in place.

Fortunately, interest in this type of training is already on the rise within many agencies. One national survey reports that 75 percent of police officers have requested education on how to talk with children and adolescents. Seeing this type of motivation is encouraging if changes are going to be made.

Should we only interview adolescents if an “appropriate adult” is present?

Here in the US, juveniles may be interrogated alone. But in England and Wales, an “appropriate adult” (such as a parent, guardian, or social worker) must also be present. This type of mandatory requirement is particularly useful because, as Mallory has studied, the majority of youth won’t think to ask for an adult to be present with them during an interview.

Of course, the type of adult present makes a big difference. That’s because most parents and guardians are unfamiliar with the legal system. So, if we were really to improve upon this process, Mallory suggests that it would be even better for a trained child advocate or an attorney to be in the room. This would help ensure that none of the statements were coerced, and that any confessions made are accurate. 

Uphold Justice with Interview Evidence

Changing the manner in which we interrogate juveniles might be one place to start, but accurate audio-video recordings also play a key role. Then the judge and jury would be able to review the interview recording and come to their own conclusion about the process.

Plus, clear recordings help protect law enforcement from wrongful accusations of coercion. Making improvements to all sides of the interrogation process can help ensure that true justice is served.

To support the valuable role of gathering evidence for criminal cases, iRecord is proud to supply agencies with high quality audio-video recording equipment. When you can document your interviews effectively and securely share them with the appropriate parties, it’s so much easier to move the justice process along. Please visit www.iRecord.tv for more information on how our equipment can help your agency be more efficient with interrogations—for any subject.

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