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Why are juveniles wrongfully convicted?

A juvenile convicted of a crime is much more likely to be wrongfully convicted than an adult, according to the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY). The group says young children and teenagers are more likely to be influenced by others, willing to comply and more vulnerable to pressure than adults.

The CWCY says youth under 18 are also less equipped to understand the risks versus potential consequences, are less likely to understand their legal rights and less likely to know how attorneys can help them.

Understanding how wrongful convictions occur

The CWCY was founded by defense attorneys representing Brendan Dassey, who, at age 16, was convicted along with his uncle Steven Avery for a 2005 Wisconsin murder, which inspired the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer.” The center focuses on helping wrongfully convicted kids, with a particular focus on:

  • False confessions: The CWCY says 25% of all juvenile convictions that were overturned through DNA evidence involved a false confession, which is one of the leading causes for wrongful convictions.
  • False accusations: The most frequent witnesses against children are also children. Interrogation tactics that can cause some kids to confess falsely can also cause young people to implicate other children falsely.
  • Miranda rights: Researchers find even “street-smart” kids do not understand their right to an attorney and to remain silent. That often leads to unreliable statements as children do not have counsel, parents or a friendly adult present while they are interrogated.
  • Overcharging, transfer and false guilty pleas: If a young person is accused of a serious criminal act, their case is often transferred to adult court where they could face a lengthy prison sentence. Research shows this can lead to guilty pleas to shorten jail time, even if they did not commit the crime.
  • Ineffective counsel: Research shows attorneys who are not experienced in representing children fail to recognize the issues that often result, including suggestibility, a child’s development and false confessions.

Protecting the rights of young people charged with a crime

Representing children can be difficult, and parents of those who are accused of a crime should seek advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney here in Virginia who will take the time to build rapport with young clients and understand that special care is needed in their defense.

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