Police questioning is routine in Washington, but it can be overwhelming and scary in the moment — especially when that questioning involves a minor. This is partly because minors are not always aware of what rights they have when in police custody or being questioned. Sometimes it is not even clear when an officer has actually taken a youth into custody. While it might not seem relevant to determine exactly when officers take teenage offenders into custody, it can actually have a profound impact on the outcome of their cases.

When someone is arrested, he or she is obviously in police custody. But what about when he or she is being questioned prior to arrest? An adult might understand that this most likely constitutes police custody, but teenagers are not simply mini adults with the same understanding of how the world works. Teens may be even more confused to learn that they were technically in police custody during questioning if the attending officers did not notify them of their Miranda rights and that they do not have to actually answer any questions.

A Supreme Court case involving a 13-year-old prompted expanded rules to protect minors. In this case, an officer pulled the teen out of class and began questioning him about two burglaries. It was only after the young boy answered the officer’s questions that he was told he did not actually have to answer, and indeed could leave whenever he wanted. The expanded rules require police to consider a minor’s age when deciding whether they should issue a Miranda notification.

When officers do not provide a Miranda notification before questioning teenage suspects, their statements can ultimately be thrown out. This is why figuring out exactly when a teen was taken into custody can be so important for the future. Washington parents who are struggling to pinpoint this information may benefit from speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney.