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Lawmaker wants simpler Miranda warnings for youths

By: Bennett Loudon//February 22, 2016

Lawmaker wants simpler Miranda warnings for youths

By: Bennett Loudon//February 22, 2016

A state lawmaker from Queens wants police in New York to use a new set of simplified Miranda warnings with suspects under 18.

State Senator Michael Gianaris
State Senator Michael Gianaris

The commonly-used Miranda warnings now used by police are written at a 10th-grade reading level, said state Senator Michael Gianaris, the bill’s sponsor.

“The new language is basically the same meaning, but put in the language of the fourth-grade reading level so that it could be understood,” said Gianaris, a Democrat.

“It’s telling them the same exact thing, just in different words,” he said.

Here are the revised Miranda warnings for juveniles that would amend the state’s criminal procedure law and the family court act:

“You have the right to remain silent. That means you do not have to say anything. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to get help from a lawyer. If you cannot pay a lawyer, the court will get you one for free. You have the right to stop this interview at any time.”

Next, the legislation would require the law enforcement officer to ask the defendant the following questions and wait each time for a response: Do you want to talk to me? Do you want to have a lawyer?

“Miranda rights are worthless unless they are understood by the arrested individual,” Gianaris said.

In 2010, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution calling for this reform.

Gianaris’ bill is just the latest proposed reform affecting juveniles in New York’s criminal justice system. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for the age of criminal responsibility be changed to 18, and for 16- and 17-year-olds to be jailed apart from adults.

“This is sort of a hot topic right now in the criminal justice community,” said Monroe County Public Defender Tim Donaher.

“We’re all becoming more aware of the fact that children under the age of 18 do no comprehend the rights that they have. And when they’re given traditional Miranda warnings the research is showing that they don’t understand what those warnings mean,” Donaher said.

Wyoming County Public Defender Norman Effman supports the change, and suggested it possibly should go even further.

“I can understand why it’s geared toward family court and 18-and-under, but if it’s useful, it’s probably useful for anyone who’s being interrogated whether they’re 18 or 58,” Effman said.

Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts questioned the need for a change.

“Line No. 1 is ‘You have a right to remain silent.’ I don’t know how much simpler you’re going to get than that,” he said.

But he is not opposed to rewriting the rest of the warnings.

“If it’s written at a lower grade level so people can understand it better, but it has the same message and the same meaning, I don’t have an objection to that,” Virts said.

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