County Must Provide Lawyers to Kids Before Questioning, Council Orders Unanimously

The legislation also requires a court order before county jailers can hand youth over to police.

Today, the King County Council unanimously passed legislation that will require arrested minors to consult with a lawyer before talking to police. The consultation may not be waived. The law also requires a court order before county jailers can hand-off children in their custody to police officers “for the purpose of interrogation.”

The purpose of the law is to protect minors from caving to implicit pressure to talk to police. As the bill’s text notes, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that “by its very nature, the pressure of custodial interrogation is so immense that it ‘can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed.’” Police are, of course, masters at implicit pressure. And, obviously, children are more susceptible to such pressure than adults.

“This legislation, vetted through our community-based Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee, will protect our children by ensuring that they will be represented by an attorney who will have their best interests at heart,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, chair of the Council’s Law and Justice Committee, in a press release. “Science, courts, and best practices show that youth must be provided protection from potential self-incrimination and abuses that can occur once in contact with our criminal justice system.”

“The new legislation is consistent with both the science and with the County’s commitment to equity and social justice,” said Attorney Anita Khandelwal, policy director at the Office of Public Defense, according to another press release. “Making sure that these children speak with advocates who can explain the system before they make a decision is an important first step in making our system more equitable and fair.”

According to the law’s text, it is based in part on the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent decision to require the St. Louis family court to prohibit police from interrogating minors unless the minor has a lawyer present.

Attorney and mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver responded to news of the laws passage thus: “I have been working with the attorneys moving this forward and have testified at multiple KCC meetings regarding this. This is an important step in the right direction of protecting the rights of all our children and youth and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline.”

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg previously advocated against the law, as has county sheriff John Urqhart, according to KUOW. Satterberg argued that it would have “unintended consequences” such as making youth less willing to talk to police.

“It’s very hard to deal with, to talk to young girls out on the street when their pimps are nearby. But if they’re in detention, detectives regularly will go up and we have to build a relationship with them. Sometimes it takes a couple of visits before the young woman will realize that this police officer really wants to help me,” Satterberg said.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been edited.

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