Police who exclude the parent of a juvenile from interrogation may not be able to use any confession in court, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The justices said questioning a child without a parent creates the real possibility of an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
And when a parent is ready and able to attend an interrogation but is denied access solely because it is inconvenient for police, then the confession cannot stand.
Friday’s ruling is a victory for a teen, 16 at the time, whose mother was denied access to a police interview being conducted at Tucson’s Pueblo High School. While the questioning was about a fight at school, he confessed he had brought a sawed-off shotgun to school in the trunk of another student’s car.
It also comes as state lawmakers weigh whether to further restrict police who question juveniles without their parents. However, deputy Maricopa County attorney Barnett Lotstein said the ruling shows why such legislation is a bad idea.
He said that, even in striking down this conviction, the high court said there is no absolute right of a parent to be present — or even be notified — about police questioning. Lotstein said sometimes a parent’s presence is legally unnecessary and, in some cases, contrary to public interests.
Pima County prosecutors, using the youngster’s confession, got a judge to declare him delinquent and place him on probation.
Justice Ruth McGregor, writing for the unanimous court, said the state and federal constitutions say individuals cannot be compelled to testify against themselves. A person can waive that right, she said, if the waiver is made "voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.’’
That is the basis for Miranda warnings.
McGregor said the teen, identified in court records only as Andre M., likely received his Miranda warning. But she said when a juvenile is involved there needs to be other evidence a confession is voluntary.
That is easier, she said, if a parent is present.
"A parent can help ensure that a juvenile will not be intimidated, coerced or deceived during an interrogation and that any confession is the product of a free and deliberate choice,’’ the judge wrote. She said it also "makes it more likely that the juvenile will be aware of the nature of the right being abandoned and will understand the consequences.’’
The judge said it would be different if a child requests his or her parents not be present or if a parent is disruptive. She also said there may be situations where time is of the essence because of risks to the safety of others.
McGregor said there was nothing in the record to justify excluding the youngster’s mother other than it would have been "inconvenient’’ for police to interrupt the interrogation.
Lotstein pointed out the court said sometimes a parent’s presence is inadvisable, such as situations where the mother or father may be a suspect in a crime and seek to block the child from speaking to police. He noted the court also said there may be times where it is learned the youngster is a victim of abuse by a parent.
Sen. Peter Rios, DDudleyville, convinced senators earlier this month to adopt legislation to let schools require that parents be present when police interview a student. His measure says if a school requires parental notification, police could not use any testimony or evidence if they ignore the policy.
That followed a letter sent to schools in December by Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley questioning a policy of the Arizona School Boards Association that schools should always notify parents when police seek to question a student. Romley said that is neither what the law reads nor even always in the best interests of the student.
The future of the Rios provision in the bill is unclear because members of a conference committee convened to work out differences with the House-passed version of the bill are balking at including it in the final version.