For the most part, police are free to approach minors the same way they approach adults. Police can question children if they suspect the child has committed a crime. The police can also search a child, their car, room or school locker.
Unfortunately, unlike many adults who refuse to speak without a lawyer, children don’t realize they can remain silent when questioned by an authority figure. If you’re a minor or the parent of a minor, it’s important to understand how you or your child should interact with the police to avoid potential self-incrimination.
Who Is Considered a Minor?
From a legal standpoint, a minor is anyone under the age of 18. However, this rule may not apply to those who have committed a felony. According to the 2021 Minnesota statues, children under 14 are not capable of committing a crime. This means that most cases of said children will be handled in juvenile courts, which instead of finding the child guilty of a crime, will only take corrective measures, like ordering counseling, community service or restitution.
Children who are 14 or older but under 18 may be prosecuted as adults for the crimes they have committed depending on the circumstances, such as the child’s criminal record or the type of felony they committed.
Can Police Question a Minor Without the Presence of Parents?
Simply speaking, yes, they can. When questioning a minor, the police are not required to contact the child’s parents or legal guardian before proceeding with the interview. However, the child does have the right to remain silent and ask for their parents or an attorney to be present. If this happens, the police are legally obligated to stop the interview.
If the child isn’t under arrest and agrees to speak with the police, anything they say can be used against them in court because they agreed to volunteer information instead of remaining silent. This can be especially tricky because many children will automatically yield to authority without realizing they have the right to remain silent.
Conversely, if the child was forced to answer questions against their will, their statements will not be admissible in court – the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects against self-incrimination.
If a child is arrested or detained, any questions asked by the police are considered custodial interrogation. The child’s answers can only be admissible in court if he or she was advised of their Miranda Rights, which state that the child, or any person, has the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and that anything they say could be used against them in court.
At this point of the interrogation, the child may refuse to answer any questions until their attorney is present. Like informal questioning, if the child answered questions without being informed of their Miranda Rights, their answers cannot be used in court.
Can Police Search a Minor?
Yes, police can legally search a minor and their property, but they must adhere to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which protects all people from unreasonable searches. Generally, if police want to search a juvenile and their property, they must have a warrant.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Police may perform a search without a warrant if a minor poses a threat to others. Also, if a minor is arrested due to drunk driving, the police have the right to search their vehicle.
Searches on School Campuses
Law enforcement officials may be given more leeway to search a minor on a school campus. This is because schools generally want to protect their students and employees from crime.
Police may search a juvenile who is physically located on a school campus without having to present them with a warrant. All they may need is probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Also, a law enforcement officer may search a minor on a school campus even if the crime occurred somewhere else.
Get Advice on Minnesota Laws Concerning Juveniles From an Experienced Minnesota Criminal Lawyer
If you or your child was subjected to an illegal search, coerced into testifying against their will or you’d just like to learn more about juvenile criminal law in Minnesota, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney.
The referral counselors at the Minnesota Lawyer Referral and Information Service (MNLRIS) can help you find the right local attorney for your specific situation. To request assistance, call (612) 752-6699 or fill out this form.