October 27, 2020

Cárdenas, Kennedy Introduce Legislation to Protect Minors

WASHINGTON—Today, Congressman Tony Cárdenas and Congressman Joe Kennedy III introduced the Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act, legislation that would protect minors in the event that they are arrested.  

“Throwing our children to the mercy of a punitive justice system that unfairly keeps young people in prisons is wrong,” said Congressman Tony Cárdenas. “Allowing children to make legal choices without proper consultation often lead to unjust sentencing that could have been avoided had they had proper legal representation. This legislation will require law enforcement to notify a child’s parent or guardian and protect American children from self-incrimination or unfair sentencing due to a lack of knowledge of the legal system.” 


“Children being arrested or detained should not have their rights denied because their parent or guardian isn’t present and they aren’t aware of the legally guaranteed protections available,” said Congressman Kennedy. “Through this legislation, we can defend the human rights of our kids while confronting the systemic injustices that face too many communities of color today. I am grateful to Congressman Cárdenas for his leadership on this bill and look forward to its swift passage in Congress.” 

"We treat children differently than adults in every aspect of our society, except when it comes to the criminal justice system, where we have been too quick to discard child status and throw children to the mercy of a system that was never designed with them in mind,” said CEO & Founder of Human Rights for Kids, James Dold. “Cases of wrongfully convicted children like the Central Park 5 and the Harlem Park 3 demonstrate why kids should never be subject to a custodial interrogation without a lawyer and their parents present.  Today, we are incredibly grateful for the bipartisan leadership of Congressman Cárdenas in leading the effort to protect the human and constitutional rights of children at the point of entry into the justice system through the Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act. This legislation will help ensure that children are not wrongfully convicted of crimes and bring greater integrity to the criminal justice system." 

The Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act would: 

  • Require law enforcement to notify and contact parents or guardians in the event a child is arrested or detained; 
  • Requires children to consult with their parent in person, by phone, or by video conference and consult with legal counsel in person before they can waive their Miranda rights; 
  • All interrogation of a minor should take place with an appointed (not a stand in substitute) legal counsel physically present at the time of interrogation; 
  • Make inadmissible in any criminal prosecution brought by the U.S. or District of Columbia, any statement given by a minor during a custodial interrogation that does not comply with the requirements; 
  • Defines minor as an individual 17 years or younger. 

Research shows that children waive their Miranda rights at extremely high rates, with several studies putting it at roughly 90 percent.  Children are much more likely than adults to make such confessions. A study of exonerations found that 42 percent of exonerated children had falsely confessed, compared with 13 percent of adults. The American Academy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry recognizes that children’s brain development, specifically the area related to reasoning, continues to mature well into early adulthood and believe that children should have an attorney present during questioning by police or other law enforcement agencies.  


The cases known as the Central Park Five are one of hundreds of cases of proven false confessions resulting in minors who falsely confess, get convicted and end up spending years in prison. Sadly, these kinds of cases continue to happen today. False accusations against African American and Latino defendants are common. According to the Innocence Project, 88 percent of DNA exonerees who were arrested as minors are Black, and the majority were tried as adults; 62 percent of DNA exonerees overall are black; and 33 percent of false confessors were 18 or younger at the time of arrest. A key reason for false confessions comes down to interrogation tactics and in the case of minors, having an adult who understands their rights in the room is crucial. 


This bill has been endorsed by Human Rights for Kids, Campaign for Youth Justice, Justice Roundtable, National Association of Counsel for Children, Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Revolve Impact, First Focus Campaign for Children, R Street Institute, and School Social Work Association of America, Casa Esperanza, Alianza for Youth Justice, LAMC Cultural Reentry Program, LAREO (Goodwill Re-entry). 

Last week, CárdenasintroducedThe Mental Health Justice Act, legislation to reduce violence against individuals with mental illness and disabilities. The bill would support the creation of mental health first responder units that would be deployed in lieu of law enforcement when 911 is called because an individual is in a mental health crisis.