†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† THE COUNSELORíS CORNER

 

So your seventeen-year-old daughter is arrested with a van full of marijuana in her car.She is questioned by police, and she confesses to being on her way to a party.She is convicted and sentenced to eighteen months confinement.Do the confession and the conviction stand?According to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, the answer is no.The Court recently ruled that before a Federal agent can begin the interrogation of a minor, the minorís parents must be informed that they have the right to counsel their child.Obviously, they may counsel their child to not answer the Federal agentís questions.

 

This case involves the interpretation of the Juvenile Delinquency Act, a Federal statute.The female in this case, Wendy G., was caught in a San Diego border bust last year.She was carrying a great deal of marijuana with her at the time.A customs agent then detained her and obtained her confession.The Federal agent called Wendy G.ís mother and told her Wendy was being detained and informed her of Wendyís Miranda rights as the law requires.Wendyís mother then asked when she could see her daughter.The Agent did not tell her she could see or talk to her daughter right away to counsel her.Instead, the Agent indicated that Mrs. G. could not talk to Wendy until they met in court the next morning.He then proceeded to obtain a confession from Wendy.Wendyís mother later testified that had she been permitted to speak with her, she would have told her daughter not to answer any questions from the Federal agent without an attorney present.


This opinion pertains only to juveniles who are in Federal custody, accused of violating Federal laws. The Justices stated that ďthe government cannot seriously maintain that the agentís answer was responsive to the motherís question . . . when the parent has not been told if she so desires, she may advise and counsel her child.This turns the statutory scheme into a game of hide the ball.ĒThe Federal agent who made the arrest, Agent Cardell Morant clearly played hide the ball with Wendy G. and her mother.

 

I applaud the Courtís interpretation of the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act.This Act requires Federal law enforcement agents to notify not only the arrested child of his or her rights, but requires that the minorís parents be informed as well.If a seventeen-year-old walks into my office and seeks my services as an attorney, he cannot be the one signing the agreement to hire me.†† Similarly, if a seventeen-year-old walks into my other office and seeks my help as a therapist, he again cannot be the one to hire me, unless he is a victim of child abuse, or if I deem him to be a danger to himself or to others.In the world of psychology, those two exceptions exist for appropriate and obvious reasons.

 


Returning to the legal world, if someone generally needs to be eighteen to hire a lawyer, and most often needs a parent signing on the dotted line in order for the agreement to have legal force, shouldnít the standard be the same if that seventeen-year-old is arrested and asked to make a decision as to whether or not to speak with a police officer?In general, we do not hold seventeen-year-olds to the same standard we hold those who are eighteen and older.Once you reach the age of majority, you have more rights, and you also have more responsibilities.When youíre under eighteen, in the Federal arena, you are protected.I imagine itís pretty clear that by Wendy G.ís attempt to get past the San Diego Customs Agents with a hundred thirty-eight pounds of marijuana in her van, she is clearly not Rhodes scholar material.In this case, Wendy G. should have been protected from herself.If someone is not competent to understand and make an intelligent decision as to whether or not to exercise his Miranda rights, how can that person possibly waive those very same rights?Were Wendy G. eighteen or older, she would have to pay the price for her stupidity.As she is seventeen, Agent Morant and any other agent in a similar situation will need to act appropriately to obtain a confession that will stick.