J.D.B. v. North Carolina: Ushering in a New 'Age' of Custody Analysis Under Miranda
Hillary B. Farber
University of Massachusetts School of Law at Dartmouth
November 1, 2011
Brooklyn Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 20, No. 1, p. 117, 2011
Over the past six years, the United States Supreme Court has carved out a distinct jurisprudential approach to youth. In 2005, the Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles in Roper v. Simmons. Then the Court ruled that juveniles could no longer be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for non-homicide offenses in Graham v. Florida. One year after Graham, the Court handed down J.D.B. v. North Carolina, completing what could be considered a trilogy of cases that forge a new approach to youth status in our justice system.
In J.D.B., the Court held that age is a relevant factor in determining whether a juvenile is in custody for Miranda purposes. Justice Sotomayor explained that age is far more “than a chronological fact”; it informs behavior and perception. Looking to the future, with the specific attributes of children now firmly acknowledged in Supreme Court precedent, a qualitatively different analysis is possible for juveniles in a variety of contexts not yet considered by the Court. There are any number of scenarios, from pre-trial to disposition, that may require courts to approach the application of procedural and substantive criminal law differently to youth in juvenile and adult court proceedings. These include such matters as competency, self-defense, lack of mens rea, accomplice liability, voluntariness of waiver of rights, and suppression of physical evidence. This Article addresses three separate areas where the Roper, Graham, J.D.B. trilogy may prove to have a profound impact: waiver of right to counsel, Terry stops, and the nature of the attorney-client relationship. In each of these contexts, various attributes of youth have differing effects on the doctrinal determination. For instance, if juveniles are characteristically impetuous decision makers, they may require additional protections to ensure that they are afforded a meaningful opportunity to be represented by a lawyer. Likewise, considering age when assessing the reasonableness of whether a juvenile would feel free to terminate the encounter during a Terry stop may compel a different outcome after J.D.B. Finally, a juvenile’s difficulty in weighing long-term consequences against short-term gains could put him or her at a significant disadvantage in terms of the quality of the representation he or she receives. Though the extent of J.D.B.’s impact is currently unknowable, it has great potential to ensure a meaningful delivery of constitutional protections to children in the investigative and adjudicatory phases of proceedings.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Date posted: May 5, 2012