Can a Cop Talk to a Minor Without a Parent?

Teenage boy (16-17) getting handcuffed, rear view, mid section
A minor, just like an adult, doesn't have to talk to police without a lawyer present if he's been arrested. (Image: Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The laws regarding police questioning of minors vary among states, and even by local jurisdiction sometimes. But generally, the police aren’t required to get a parent’s consent before talking to a minor. That doesn’t mean a minor can’t ask to have a parent present during questioning, points out Jerod Gunsberg, a Los Angeles juvenile defense attorney. In some states, the police have the option of contacting a minor’s parents before questioning, although they don’t always do so.

Refusing to Answer Questions

By law, police aren’t required to have a parent or an attorney present when they question a minor before making an arrest, points out attorney Nicholas Brodich in a legal column published by the New Hampshire Bar Association. But the minor has the legal right to refuse to answer any of the police’s questions unless a parent is there. A minor who hasn’t been arrested can ask the police officer if she is free to go. Even when the police don’t place a minor under arrest, the minor shouldn’t say anything without having a parent and an attorney present during the interrogation. Anything a minor tells police before or after arrest could be used against her.

Miranda Rights

If the police arrest a minor and take him into custody, they must inform the minor of his right to remain silent, his right to stop the interview at any time and his right to have an attorney present during questioning. Once a minor is in custody, if the police haven’t informed him of his Miranda rights, anything the minor tells police can’t be used against him in court. But anything he says before being arrested can be used against him later even if he wasn’t informed of his Miranda rights, notes Nolo.com. That’s why it’s important to talk to a lawyer before talking to police.

Arrest

A minor who is placed under arrest should inform police she is going to remain silent until her parents are present and she talks to a lawyer. While the police can’t force a minor to talk against her will, in some states the police are allowed to deceive a minor during questioning. A minor can waive the right to consult with an attorney, but any statements she makes to police are admissible in court only if she makes them voluntarily. At the time of arrest, a minor has the right to know what she's charged with.

Laws Vary

While no law prohibits police from questioning minors without a parent being present, individual police departments are allowed to establish and enforce their own policies on the issue. A police officer has the right to question anyone, but some police departments require parental consent before talking to a minor; others do not. Some states have laws that say a minor cannot voluntarily waive her right to counsel under the Miranda warning without having a parent or other responsible adult present at questioning. Police must inform that person of the minor’s rights.

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