When They See Us: Juvenile False Confessions

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Waiving of the Miranda Rights
  • Interrogation of Minors Without the Presence of an Adult
  • Reid Technique
    Pressure from Parents


For this literature review, I will be analyzing the Netflix series “When They See Us,” and with support from research, I will discuss how the series depicted juvenile false confessions along with race as a secondary factor in effect. I will be also discussing how other factors such as the waiving of the Miranda rights, the interrogation of minors without an adult or lawyer, the pressure from parents, and the Reid technique – as seen on the Netflix series – can lead juveniles into the way of false confessing. The Netflix series “When They See Us” touches on the Central Park Jogger case of 1989. Five African American/Hispanic American boys were detained and interrogated for the rape and assault of Trisha Meili. After hours of police interrogation that involved physical and physiological maltreatment, the five boys falsely admitted to committing the crime. It was not until more than 14 years later that the law found that they have been wrongfully convicted and pressured by the police to confess as kids, as they were not the actual assailants of the victim.

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Waiving of the Miranda Rights

As mentioned in my introduction, I will go step by step on the factors that led to the false confessions of the Central Five, and I will start with the waiving of the Miranda rights as this is the gate that investigators expected for the young boys to open when they took them in for interrogation. During the first episode of the series, we see how each of the five boys that are taken into interrogation are read their Miranda rights, which the boys waived either because they were not in company of an adult at the moment and do not fully comprehend what these are, or simply because they do not think much of it since they have not done anything wrong. As research by LaMontagne (2013) suggests, false confessions are more likely to occur once juveniles have waived their Miranda rights, and 80% to 90% of juveniles decide to move forward with the interrogation without the presence of a lawyer. It is also no surprise that one of the reasons why juveniles waive these rights is because they do not fully understand what these rights are made for. To be able to comprehend the dialect in a Miranda warning, suspects are needed to be at a reading level of 6th to 10th grade at least (LaMontagne, 2013). The complex words used on these warnings are not always understood by juveniles nor explained by police investigators (LaMontagne, 2013). Likelihood of juvenile false confessions is related to main factors as poor Miranda rights comprehension, a low IQ, and age (Haney, Goldstein & Mesiarik, 2018). Therefore, minors like Korey Wise, who are not attending school at the time, or are not on that reading level yet, will waive their Miranda rights almost instantly because of their lack of knowledge.

Interrogation of Minors Without the Presence of an Adult

Since it was mentioned in the last paragraph that one of the reasons why juveniles waive their Miranda rights is because of the lack of adult presence, it is almost inexcusable to mention one of the factors that covers a large part of the problem with juvenile false confessions, i.e., minors being interrogated without the presence of an adult. When the five boys who were suspects on the Central Park Jogger case are detained, they are taken first to the police station, and their parents are informed about the situation. Since all of them come from low income working families, their parents cannot get out of work as soon as they are called in, therefore, the police takes advantage of this and starts interrogating three of the boys without their parents presence. While waiting for the interrogation of Kevin Richardson, his mother starts feeling sick and she leaves him there alone at the police station, to what one of the investigators responds “Christmas came early this year, start interrogating him.” For Raymond Santana, since his parents do not speak English very well, the investigators use this on their favor and start accusing him of the crime while their parents are inside the interrogation room, but knowing they are not understanding a single word they are saying to their child, so we see even a language barrier act as a form of advantage to these police investigators. It is not until the mother of Yusef Salaam, who comes in and accuses the police investigators of illegally interrogating a minor without the presence of their parents or lawyer, that puts a stop to the interrogation and saves her child from incriminating himself. Research by Cleary and Warner (2017) suggests, it is because of this mere reason that in places like the United Kingdom, minors are required the presence of an adult that is not related to the interrogation. Several states in the United States require a parent’s presence during the interrogation of a minor, either to clarify any difficulties in understanding the minor might have, and to serve as a buffer from police coercion (Cleary & Warner, 2017).

Reid Technique

Since the risk of interrogations on juveniles without the presence of an adult has been mentioned, it is important that we now discuss the interviewing technique that was used during the interrogation of the Central Five. The Reid Technique… Minors ages 14-16 were more like to false confess than youth ages 17-24 (Haney, Goldstein & Mesiarik, 2018). It was also indicated by research that 25% to 33% of teenagers interrogated would definitely respond to at least one interrogation tactic, leading them to false confessing.

Pressure from Parents

After all of the pressure from police investigators with the Reid technique, minors like Antron McCray, have to face the pressure of parents also forcing them into false confessing. During the first episode of the Netflix series, we can see how police investigators interrogating the minors, have also looked at the criminal background of the father of Antron McCray – Bobby McCray. As they discover that Bobby has served time in prison, they bribe him to convince Antron into false confessing. Bobby goes back into the interrogation room and talks to Antron about false confessing in order for them to not get in trouble, and he mentions the race issue. Arguing that for people like them, there is nothing else to do than to give police what they want.

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