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A Juvenile Defendant’s Rights Are Her/His Alone, and Cannot Be Waived By a Parent or Legal Guardian

Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a Fulton County trial court judge’s ruling that suppressed a custodial statement made by a juvenile defendant accused of murder. The case is State v. Lee, Case No. S15A1502 (decided February 1, 2016)( https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/s15a1502.pdf). The Court’s opinion is significant because it again reiterates that a juvenile defendant’s rights are her/his alone, and cannot be waived by a parent or legal guardian. Here, the child, after several hours of interrogation by case detectives, finally broke down, began to sob, and answered several questions that incriminated himself. But, because he never explicitly waived his right to counsel, these statements were obtained unlawfully and are inadmissible. Furthermore, the fact that his mother, who sat with her child during the interrogation, stated that she understood her son’s right to counsel was of little consequence, since the child could not rely on her to waive his rights. This decision is a valuable reminder that, in order for the government to use custodial statements from juvenile defendants, it bears a heavy burden in establishing that the child has knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. For criminal defense practitioners who represent children, it is critical that we review all statements made by such clients carefully, with these principles in mind.