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What are my child’s rights when they are arrested?

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2024 | General Criminal Defense

The Massachusetts juvenile justice system operates in parallel to the criminal justice system for adults, but with some key differences. Most importantly, the juvenile justice system provides more opportunities to avoid incarceration and the long-term damaging effects of a criminal record. Some of these protections apply early in the process, at the point of arrest.

Protections for minors at the point of arrest

Just like adults, children have rights when they are arrested. If they are being held in custody and interrogated, the police must read them their Miranda rights. These rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, may be familiar to adults from having watched television shows and movies, but Massachusetts law recognizes that children may not be as familiar with them. Police are therefore required to read these rights in language the minor may understand.

Anything an arrestee says can be used against them in court, and so it is advisable for them to keep silent until they can have an attorney present. Whether they involve a child or an adult, many cases hinge on the question of whether the suspect was technically in custody at the time they made potentially incriminating statements. If they were in custody, and the police did not read them their rights, the defendant may be able to have any such statements suppressed from evidence.

Massachusetts law has some additional protections for minors at the point of arrest and detention. When a child aged 12-18 is arrested, police must immediately notify at least one of the child’s parents or guardians. This is true whether the child was arrested pursuant to an arrest warrant or not. The child can be detained until this notification is made, but there are some special requirements for detaining minors and holding them in custody. For instance, police stations and city lockups must have special facilities for children in order to hold a minor aged 14-18 if they are going to detain them for more than a minimal amount of time. These children may not be detained in a regular jail. During court hours, the police must transport a child to Juvenile Court.

There are further protections for minors ages 12-13. Generally, children under age 12 are not arrested, detained or charged.