April 29, 2021

Cárdenas, Bass Introduce Legislation to Protect Minors in the Justice System

The Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act is part of juvenile justice a legislative package that Congressman Cárdenas will introduce in the coming weeks


WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA-37) introduced the Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act, legislation that would protect minors in the event they are arrested.  The Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act is part of a juvenile justice reform legislative package that Congressman Cárdenas will introduce in the coming weeks. 


The introduction of the bill was announced in a virtual press conference earlier this week. 


“Throwing our children to the mercy of a punitive justice system that unfairly keeps young people in prisons is wrong,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “Allowing children to make legal choices without consultation often leads 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 children from self-incrimination or unfair sentencing due to a lack of knowledge of the legal system.” 


“Studies have proven that punishing children the way we punish adults does not advance public safety,” said Congresswoman Bass, co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “After decades of increasingly punitive and failed juvenile justice policies, it’s time to take a step in a direction that recognizes that children are different than adults, that they have enormous potential for rehabilitation, change, and growth, and that we can do better to meet their developmental needs. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this vital piece of legislation.”


The 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 and LAREO. 


"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 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., any statement given by a minor during a custodial interrogation that does not comply with the requirements; and

  • Defines a “minor” as an individual who is 17 years old or younger. 


Growing up in Pacoima, Congressman Cárdenas witnessed the long-lasting effects of the broken criminal and juvenile justice systems. He saw how the pervasive problems in the juvenile justice system kept young Americans in a perpetual cycle of incarceration. He took his experiences and became a national expert in juvenile justice reform with a proven track record of enacting unprecedented legislation for over 21 years. As a legislator in the California State Assembly, including his role as former Chairman of the state’s powerful Budget Committee and as a former Los Angeles City Councilmember, Cárdenas has successfully worked on effective youth development and juvenile justice policy and legislation.  




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 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. 


Here is the full text of the Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act.