As state lawmakers consider a bill that would bar police from interrogating juvenile suspects without notifying their parents, some law-enforcement officials say the interrogation law shouldn't be changed.
A bill that would bar police from interrogating juvenile suspects without notifying their parents, and in some cases obtain parental consent for an interrogation, has gained widespread support among lawmakers in Olympia.
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Wednesday night, the state Senate passed the parental-notification bill unanimously.
But yesterday, as a near-identical measure was waiting to be heard by a committee in the House of Representatives, the president of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) said he would not allow the issue to go forward without a fight.
“We have a fundamental disagreement in regard to parents’ ability to intervene during an investigation,” said Everett Police Chief and WASPC President Jim Scharf. “The process is in place and it works. What about the rights of victims?”
The proposed legislation grew out of an Everett case with which Scharf is familiar: Last year, Everett police pulled a middle-schooler out of class to question him in connection with the alleged molestation of a 4-year-old girl.
The youth was charged in juvenile court with child molestation, but last year a judge threw out the case and cleared the boy of wrongdoing.
When the boy’s father, Pastor Paul Stoot Sr., learned that police are not required by state law to notify parents whose children are being interrogated, he vowed to make sure “safeguards are in place to protect our children.”
“I wasn’t just personally attacked, but I was spiritually and humanly concerned,” said Stoot, who leads the Greater Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in South Everett. “I just couldn’t believe it. I felt violated; I felt raped of my civil rights.”
Stoot said Everett police “coerced” his son to admit guilt, a confession the judge threw out. He said his son and many other children aren’t mature enough to understand what police are asking them and can’t be legally required to behave as adults.
When questioned about the officer’s actions during that interview, Scharf said the investigator behaved properly.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, who sponsored the Senate bill, said that after meeting with Stoot, she was surprised that his son’s case wasn’t dismissed sooner.
She said a constituent had once told her that police wouldn’t let him talk to his son while they questioned the boy about allegedly throwing rocks at cars.
“Young people under the age of 18 can’t be executed. It’s along the lines of what we’re doing here,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe is aware of police and prosecutors’ concerns, “but I really believe parents should be involved in the very important decisions in their [children's] lives, and this is an important decision.”
Both the Senate and House bills require law enforcement to tell juvenile suspects they have a right to confer with their parents before being questioned. The bills also require police to make a good-faith effort to contact parents before interviewing a child.
Both bills say that if a parent shows up during questioning, the parent has the right to intercede and stop it if the parent and the child decide to do so.
“It is going to be the very rare parent who, knowing that their child could be in serious trouble, is going to tell them to go ahead and talk to police,” said Snohomish County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roe. “It’s natural for people to protect their children.”
In addition, the House bill, which is in the Rules Committee, says a judge can’t let a child waive the right to counsel until the judge determines the child is competent to understand the consequences of waiving the right.
Sixteen states require police to notify a child’s parent before an interrogation. Thirteen states allow children to consult with their parents before talking to police.
Currently, when police obtain a confession or other statements from juvenile defendants, a judge is asked to review what has been said to ensure the testimony was given knowingly and voluntarily. This also holds true for adult defendants.
“Juveniles committing crimes, including serious ones, is not like a kid throwing a baseball through a neighbor’s window,” Roe said. “It’s not a family matter; it’s a matter of public safety and accountability.”
Roe cites two of his office’s recent high-profile cases to explain why the interrogation law shouldn’t be changed. Had Snohomish County sheriff’s investigators not been able to talk to the youths ultimately convicted of killing John Jasmer and Rachel Burkheimer, Roe said, he doubts the crimes could have been solved. Jasmer, 16, was killed in August 2003 by two Roosevelt High classmates; seven men and one male juvenile were convicted in connection with Burkheimer’s slaying in September 2002.
“Notifying people’s parents is one thing. Allowing and encouraging parents to obstruct investigations is something [different] altogether,” Roe said. “If children decide to commit crimes without the advice of their parents then they can certainly be able to decide to talk with police.”
Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604