Laws regarding the questioning of a minor without her parents present vary from state to state, and they depend on who is doing the questioning and why. However, children are entitled to the same constitutional rights as adults, and federal law sometimes protects them from questioning, whether or not their parents are present.
Questioning by Police
When police suspect a child of committing a crime or having knowledge of a crime, no Virginia law prohibits them from questioning him outside the presence of his parents, according to Anton Stelly, an attorney in Richmond. But if he requests that his parents be present, or if his parents ask to be present, police must allow that, just as they would have to honour a request to confer with a lawyer. Virginia judges put confessions made without a parent's presence under an exacting microscope, however. Statements made to police under such circumstances might be barred from being entered into evidence if the child's attorney can prove that the police intimidated him.
Questioning by School Authorities
Virginia awards school authorities even broader questioning rights than it does to police officers. In 2004, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Virginia's determination that questioning a 10-year-old girl about an alleged gun in her backpack -- without notifying her mother that they were going to question her -- was permissible. The court found that the school's right to maintain order and the safety of its students trumped the parent's right to be present during the questioning of her child.
Questioning by Social-Service Workers
Social workers have the most latitude of all adults who may have cause to question a child without his parents' present, according to The Rutherford Institute, a foundation focused on the preservation of human and civil rights. The institute indicates that courts in most states place higher priority on preventing child abuse than protecting a child from questioning without a parent present. Often, interviewing the child alone is the only way for social workers and physicians to determine the validity of allegations of child abuse. The ultimate decision as to whether a child's response is valid evidence in a child abuse matter rests with individual judges and jurisdictions.
The United States Supreme Court's Miranda v. Arizona decision in 1967 applies to children as well as adults. Police must give a minor a Miranda warning in order to question him regarding a crime. Stelly indicates that "custody" means that he is not free to leave the presence of police officers. If he asks if he can go and the police say no, anything he says afterward is inadmissible in court unless he has been given a Miranda warning. And once that occurs, it presents the child with the opportunity to request his parent's presence, as well as that of an attorney.
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