"You're not under arrest, we're just here to talk."
"We just want to hear your side of the story."
"You just have to listen."
When police are investigating allegations of juvenile delinquency, they frequently gather evidence by speaking to victims, witnesses, and suspects. You, as a person under 18, or your child may hear one or more of the above statements during this investigatory stage. Oftentimes, the impulse is to trust and assist police by providing access to one's child to "talk it out" so that the child can admit to what they've done and the police can help them out.
Just about everyone's heard a Miranda warning on some lawyer or cop show, but few pause to consider its gravity and importance.
"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights as I've read them to you?"
You won't always hear this warning read. Police may tell you or your child repeatedly that the child is not under arrest and no charges have been filed. Yet.
A person accused of a crime or delinquency has the constitutional right to remain silent whether the police mention it or not. When police seek direct contact with you, as a person under 18, or with your child, about criminal or delinquency allegations, they are often seeking incriminating and inculpatory statements to be used in filing charges.
We naturally seek to clear our names of accusations and we can feel it's best for a child just to admit to what they've done and move on. Entanglement in the juvenile delinquency system can have serious and long-term consequences. Additionally, an interview with police is a game which police have played much longer than you or your child. Police have suspicions and want to test those suspicions. Speaking with police can feel like walking around in a circle to wherever they lead you. They may be trained in interviewing techniques that bring you or your child around to admitting to things and making the truth seem guilty. They are in the business of proving crimes, not proving innocence, by seeking admissions, confessions, and incriminating statements. It's a dangerous game in which the truth may not come out nor always be helpful.
Sometimes, the best evidence in a case is an incriminating statement or confession given voluntarily to police.
What can you expect after the police call? Police and prosecutors have a long time to file charges. You or your child may not hear for many months while police continue to gather evidence or prosecutors consider whether to bring formal charges. Once the process starts in court, you or your child may get something in the mail or served upon you by a sheriff's deputy called a summons, petition, and/or citation, and a demand to appear for an initial hearing before a judge. At the initial hearing, a resolution to the case may be discussed, and the matter may be set for further hearing, such as a contested or uncontested pre-trial hearing and trial.