Would-be SF law seeks expanded safeguards for juvenile offenders

Kids are not adults. End of story.

That is a bottom-line observation from our immediately preceding blog post at the established Bay Area criminal defense Law Offices of John W. Noonan. And it is coupled with our view — adamantly supported by researchers, psychologists and thoughtful law enforcers spanning the country — that “young people who are not yet adults shouldn’t typically be treated as if they are.”

Indeed, we stress in our January 2 post entry that juveniles often display “predictable lapses in judgment and failed appreciation for downside consequences.”

We know that our readers duly note the truth of that; after all, we were all once kids who dealt with the same limitations, challenges and growing pains. Collectively, they render it an imperative that there be some differentiation typically in how criminal cases are handled for minors as compared with the criminal processes relevant to adult offenders.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen certainly agrees with that premise. Ronen recently introduced a would-be ordinance that seeks to augment and materially expand juvenile protections recently crafted by state legislators. California’s new law mandates an automatic right for offenders 15 years old or younger to secure legal counsel when they are taken into legal custody. Ronen and other reformers want to see that right extended in the Bay Area to offenders up to the age of 17.

Critics of many elements attached to juvenile in-custody and interrogation situations stress that it is not enough to simply intone Miranda rights to a minor.

“They have no idea what it means,” says one justice insider and commentator on the new legislation. Having the right to an attorney is not the same as ensuring that one stands beside a bewildered and frightened adolescent who is about to be questioned under challenging conditions.

That minors often make huge mistakes in thought and judgment while in custody is manifestly clear. One widely spotlighted study examining wrongful convictions and exonerations found juveniles to be “three times as likely to falsely confess as adults.”

Rosen’s introduced legislation centrally seeks to introduce safeguards that will guard against such travesties of justice.

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