LA County Public Defender provides counsel and comfort to youths 24/7

Studies show that most youths do not understand their Miranda rights or the consequences of waiving those rights and talking to law enforcement without counsel.

Due to advances in adolescent brain development, we now understand that juveniles need additional assistance understanding their Miranda rights. Moreover, since youths are much more vulnerable in interrogation settings, they have higher instances than adults of falsely confessing.

Realizing all of this, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 395 into law. The new law provides that barring circumstances of imminent bodily harm or damage to property, youths 15 years and under must have a consultation with an attorney before they can legally waive their Miranda rights and be interrogated.

The LA County Public Defender is leading the way to ensure that the law — the only such law in the U.S.— is successful.

“We want this to work for the kids we’re representing and we want this to work for law enforcement,” Juvenile Division Head Deputy Casey Lilienfeld told the LA County Board of Supervisors' Chair Sheila Kuehl and the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee (CCJCC) during a recent presentation at the Hall of Administration.

Deputy public defenders are now available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to consult with youths regarding their Miranda rights. Since Jan. 1, 2018 the office has received about 60 calls.

For example, on a late Friday night, a deputy public defender drove to Pomona to speak to a young teen who had been detained by law enforcement after the girl, who was in foster care, had allegedly hit her roommate. The girl was confused about why she would be taken to juvenile hall and detained. The attorney not only advised her of her Miranda rights, but quelled her fears and provided much needed comfort.

“Often, youths are arrested [for conduct] at group homes,” Lilienfeld said. “They are there by no fault of their own, their parents were no longer able to care for them, and if they fight with others at the home, police may be called. In most families, instead of calling the police, usually the parents would settle the argument.”

The presence of a deputy public defender provided a much-needed advocate at a time when the youth was confused and scared, said Division Chief Ramon Quintana, who along with Assistant Public Defender Winston Peters, is leading the implementation of SB 395 at the Public Defender’s office.

Deputy Public Defender Rourke Stacy, who helped develop and draft SB 395, said the bill was enacted because of the pronounced developmental differences between juveniles and adults.

“Youth perceive custody very differently and do not fully understand the criminal justice system and the consequences of waiving Miranda rights,” Stacy said. “Attorneys who are called to consult with these youth are providing a needed service at what could be the most pivotal moment in the youth's life.”

Stacy said that between 60 and 75 percent of arrested youths have either untreated mental health issues, childhood trauma, or learning disabilities.

“Many of the youths will be speaking with law enforcement, defense attorneys and social workers in this context; these children may not be operating at their grade level,” she said. “These children may have other deficits. We may think that they understand, but they may not.”

By having attorneys available at all times to assist young people who are facing interrogation, the Public Defender is not only providing legal counsel, but also comforting and advocating for vulnerable individuals in the criminal justice system — our youth.

Photo captions:
1) Deputy Public Defender Rourke Stacy, trainer in the Juvenile Division, helped to author SB 395. Here, she explains the bill to the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee.

2) Head Deputy Casey Lilienfeld speaks before the CCJCC about SB 395.

3) LA County Board of Supervisors' Chair Sheila Kuehl with CCJCC Executive Director Mark Delgado asks the Public Defender questions about the new bill.