The scene opens in a dreary interrogation room in Tallahassee’s Leon County Sheriffs Office. A young juvenile, seated, slumps to one side, backed into a corner by a table. A veteran detective sits across the table, his back to the small room's only door. The juvenile’s father sits aside the table, looking nervous. The three males in the room, along with the table, occupy almost all available floor space. The detective presses with questions about a pellet gun robbery at a local convenience store. The juvenile was present. The juvenile was not directly involved; however the kid’s ignorance of Florida’s law of principals is a glaring liability. By sheer dumb luck; the young man has, to this point, avoided incriminating himself. The kid is holding his own, even in the face of the detective’s press. The detective has conducted hundreds of these interviews. The questions started off friendly enough; the wily detective took his time ingratiating himself to the child and the child’s father. The detective began with a friendly tone and has, over the intervening hour, downshifted to adopt a more direct, accusatory stance. For the second or third time, the detective calls for a break in the interview “to go check on something.” The detective exits the windowless room; leaving the juvenile alone with his father. Silently, the hidden video camera in the ceiling continues to record video and sound.
What happens next is a tragedy which occurs in juvenile cases every week. Junior’s father, on a parenting kick, rips into the boy for his admitted bad (but lawful) behavior. The boy, in his responses to his Dad, makes statements that the government will use to obtain the boy’s conviction. The veteran detective, trained and experienced in interrogation, has failed. However, the father succeeds and unwittingly serves as an agent of the State for purposes of his son’s prosecution. The son’s prosecution and future incarceration will be based, in large part, on the dialogue between the father and son which took place in the interrogation room.
In the future, the child’s well-read and experienced defense attorney is sitting at his desk. The defense lawyer watches the video of the father/son exchange and buries his face in his hands with a groan.
The father may well have desired that his boy be punished for his acts. However; the State is now in charge of punishing the boy directly. The level of punishment imposed – which could include lengthy incarceration at an adult facility – is wholly beyond the control of the boy’s parents. The father had, through the course of his adulthood, been informally advised not to ever discuss such matters with detectives. The father has attorneys who he counts as his friends and neighbors. If the detective had come to the father’s home, informed the father that there were some questions he needed to ask at headquarters about a criminal act, and requested the father travel alone to that interrogation room – the father would have certainly declined.
However, the detective asked to speak with Junior. When it comes to dealing with Junior, the father’s concern with being a good parent combined with his ignorance of the possible consequences, led to him actively participating in a police interrogation. He has raised Junior well and taught the boy to tell the truth. He has taught the boy to answer questions posed by the authorities. It had not yet dawned on the father that the authorities might not always be homeroom teachers inquiring about flying spit balls. It had not yet dawned on the father that the authorities were now an armed, organized force who viewed his son as a responsible adult and were mobilized to lock him away for a significant period of his life.
The father could have, and should have refused to allow his son to even go to the police station. The father could have, and should have politely obtained contact information from the detective and subsequently brought his son to the nearest available qualified criminal defense lawyer. Certainly this is what the father would have done had he himself been the target of any criminal investigation. Why would the father subject his son to questioning which he himself would have declined? The answer is that he was acting as a parent. Parents are not supposed to let their kids use lawyers as intermediaries. Parents are supposed to demand utmost truth and cooperation in the face of an allegation against a child. Allowing a child to hide behind the neighborhood criminal defense lawyer is not great parenting. Such an act does not foster the respect, honesty and cooperation which parents expect their children to exhibit in their homes or their schools. However, allowing a child to be interrogated by a seasoned law enforcement officer is not beneficial for the child’s future.
Versions of this dynamic are available in an unfortunately large number of published juvenile appellate opinions. Last month in J.X. v. State, __ So. 3d __, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2374 (Fla. 3d DCA 11/13/2013) we read of a mother’s actions, understandable in the view of a parent but unconscionable in the view of an attorney.
J.X.’s brother and another individual were arrested for committing two residential burglaries after being positively identified by an eyewitness. Two weeks after these arrests, Detective Henriquez summoned J.X., who was seventeen years old at the time, and J.X.’s mother to the police station on the suspicion that J.X. had been involved in the burglaries. After introducing himself to J.X. and J.X.’s mother, Detective Henriquez informed them that he wished to speak to J.X. because he believed J.X. was involved in the burglaries. Although the evidence is in dispute as to what occurred after J.X. and his mother were told why they had been summoned to the police station, the trial court found that J.X. unequivocally invoked his right to counsel by explicitly stating that he wanted a lawyer as soon as he realized he was being interrogated.
So the kid gets it! The kid is one of the few suspects who actually understands his Miranda rights and has invoked the strongest constitutional protection afforded. Bravo J.X.! Your mother can deal with you later, in the privacy of your family setting. However you’re probably not going to see the inside of a jail cell because you, as opposed to many others, grasped your constitutional rights and invoked them.
But wait! There has to be about 1000 words left in this opinion. Let’s press on and see where we get:
Detective Henriquez then closed his case file and terminated the interview. As he was leaving the room, Detective Henriquez stated that he would go “deal with” J.X.’s brother instead. At this point, after being encouraged by his mother to cooperate, J.X. reinitiated contact with Detective Henriquez by saying, “No, no, wait, don’t go, I’ll talk to you.” Detective Henriquez then fully advised J.X. of his Miranda rights by giving J.X. a form that contained a full recitation of those rights and by orally telling J.X. of those rights. After being advised of his rights, J.X. confessed to committing the burglaries and he was arrested.
WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, MOM!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Your astute son, J.X. was ready to walk out of the building. You could have taken him home and punished him to your heart’s delight (within reason – there are child abuse laws). But instead; you encourage cooperation with the police who are investigating your kid for a series of burglaries?!?!?!?!?!?!?
The kid, J.X., is in custody now. Possibility # 1 is that your parenting instinct got the best of you and you’ve unwittingly assisted the police in incarcerating your son. In such a case I would encourage you to exercise constitutional rights on behalf of your children as you would yourself. You can use your parenting power to correct any perceived skirting of responsibility in the future. Possibility # 2 is that you wanted to ‘teach Junior a lesson’ and that you have certainly accomplished. It is beyond the scope of an appellate opinion but we never learn what the ultimate lesson was and we are also unaware of whether the lesson taught by the State coincided with what Mom had in mind when she decided it was time to J.X. to get some teaching.
My advice to parents of (sometimes wayward) teenagers is to invoke constitutional rights on behalf of the kids just as you would personally. Parenting powers, in the privacy of your home, can be used to impose punishment which you see is fit – where you get to be the judge and executioner. Doing otherwise in the name of good parenting is not in your kid’s best interest.