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Bill would establish a minor’s right to legal counsel in police interrogations

Before an interrogation begins, police must recite the Miranda warning, which includes the familiar words, “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

Rep. Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton) says that when speaking to a police officer, children waive the right to an attorney “an astounding 90% of the time.”

The reason? Feist says it’s because they are too young to truly understand the full legal ramifications of not having legal counsel.

She sponsors HF2749 that would require a juvenile to consult with an attorney before a police officer could initiate a custodial interrogation of the juvenile and prohibit waiving that legal consultation.

“All members of our society have the constitutional protections that our Founding Fathers saw fit to grant us,” she said.

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over Tuesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. There is no Senate companion.

The bill would also prevent statements made by juveniles from being used as evidence against them if the statements are made to staff from a school, corrections department, or social services provider before consultation with an attorney.

A police officer questioning a juvenile would be required to make an attempt to notify the juvenile’s parent or guardian.

Exceptions for situations including emergencies and threats would be established, Feist said.

“Most parents don’t know that a police officer can go to their child’s school and question their child with no notification to the parent and no lawyer,” said Sarah Davis, executive director of the Legal Rights Center.

The bill would protect children in “inherently coercive situations,” she said, citing research showing that children ages 14 to 17 are particularly vulnerable to making false confessions.

“Coerced statements and wrongful confessions are a significant problem in our youth justice system,” she said.

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard, chair of the Hopkins School Board, said the bill would provide important legal protections for students both inside and outside of school.

She characterized the protections proposed in the bill as being critical to reducing disciplinary disparities in schools, where students of color receive harsher punishment than white students.

“It ensures that their constitutional rights are upheld, and helps to mitigate against the bias and racism that we know exist in public education, social services, and criminal justice systems,” she said.

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