Despite Republican opposition, a bill requiring parents or guardians to be present when juveniles are questioned by police passed through the state Judiciary Committee Thursday.
The bill passed 24–20 after facing the scrutiny of Republican legislators during a Judiciary Committee meeting last Thursday. Many Republican lawmakers said they had no issues with most provisions of the bill — which include raising the age required to transfer a case from a juvenile to an adult court from 14 to 15, and clarifying that a child offender will not be shackled in court appearances unless otherwise determined by a judge for safety reasons. But several Republicans voiced concern with one part of the bill that would render 16 and 17-year-olds’ statements to the police inadmissible, unless made in the presence of a parent or guardian.
“None of the research I’ve seen suggests that a 17-year-old has any difficulty discerning between the truth,” state Rep. John Shaban said at the meeting. “So if a 17-year-old makes a confession, makes a statement or makes an admission that is the truth, that should stand.”
Shaban added that this section of the bill goes “too far” and would “do more harm than good.”
State Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven defended the bill, noting that brain development continues up until the age of 25. She cited studies that show that adolescents fail to adequately weigh risk factors when making decisions. She acknowledged that children who are 16 and 17 still require guidance and training.
Republican legislators pointed out that other responsibilities granted to 16 and 17-year-olds — through driving laws and laws defining the minimum age at which individuals can enlist in the military or become emancipated from their parents — are at odds with the age restrictions set forth in the provision.
Republican state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas noted at the hearing that there is already a state law that questions the circumstances under which police obtain statements from juveniles. She, along with Shaban, said this existing provision adequately addresses concerns about juveniles’ maturity.
The majority of the testimony submitted for the bill does not focus on the provision of the bill involving police questioning but is instead centered on support for the juvenile shackling provision.
However, the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice has supplied testimony against the police questioning provision, stating that imposing such a blanket rule over 16 and 17-year-olds will place an unnecessary burden on police, who would have to seek out a parent or guardian in order to obtain a statement. The written testimony also said the provision is too broad in its current language, as it applies to statements made by teenagers for any case, whether that is criminal or civil, or even a motor vehicle case.
Earlier this year, Sen. Chris Murphy informed the U.S. Judiciary Committee that this proposed bill from the state could be used as a template for a national bill on juvenile shackling reform.