Does a Juvenile have a Right to have a Parent Present during Police Questioning?

Many people think that a juvenile (i.e., a person under 18), must have a parent present before the police can ask the child questions about a crime. This is simply not true. In Nevada, the police can actually question any child (whether 17-years-old or 10-years-old) without telling his parents first, or even asking the child whether he wants a parent present before being questioned.

The closest the Nevada Supreme Court has come to protecting children from the coercive nature of police interrogations was in 1979 when, in a footnote to one of its opinions, the Court recommended:

“Before being interviewed, a child should be advised of his rights and cautioned that any answers may be used in a criminal court as well as before the juvenile court. Special efforts should be made, especially in the case of young children, to interview the juvenile only in the presence of a parent or guardian. Although a juvenile does have the capacity to make a voluntary confession without the presence or assent of a parent or guardian, and a confession is not psychologically coerced or involuntary simply because no adult assented to it, it is preferred that a responsible custodian be present. Absent extraordinary circumstances, this should always be the policy when a child is being questioned or a formal statement concerning his participation is being taken. Clearly, the more serious the offense and the younger the accused, the greater the precaution which should be taken in the interrogation process.”

Basically, the Court made a suggestion on how things should be done, but did not make it the law. In 2006, the Nevada Supreme Court, again in a footnote to one of its decisions, emphasized that the Court’s “suggestion” was NOT a constitutional rule:

“In Marvin, we stated that, absent extraordinary circumstances, police should always have a responsible custodian present during interviews of children. We note, however, that this requirement has not been recognized as a constitutional right.”

If a parent is not present during police questioning, does it really make a difference if the police inform the child of his Miranda warnings? Based on recent research, the answer is “No.” Research appears to show that children lack the intelligence or cognitive ability to even understand what the Miranda warnings mean and how giving them up can harm their legal interests.

Consequently, it’s time that the Nevada Legislature (or Nevada Supreme Court by constitutional rule) take action and pass legislation similar to that passed in New Mexico and New York, which protects children from coercive police questioning. At a minimum, children in Nevada should have the right to have a parent present during questioning and the police should be required to tell the child of this right when they are read their Miranda warnings. All these issues are detailed in: