No Brothers Allowed: How Expanding a Juvenile’s Miranda Rights Backfired on a North Carolina Sheriff’s Department

BY Trent McCotter

Imagine watching the nervousness wash over fifteen-year-old Micah. His parents have brought him to the sheriff’s office to talk with a female detective about sexual contact he allegedly had with his younger brother Jake. He does not want to talk with the detective alone—it would be embarrassing to talk to a female about this, and talking one-on-one would be intimidating. And there is no way he would allow his parents to be present during the questioning, either— talk about nerve-racking, plus they might actually be more intimidating than the detective since Micah was being questioned about assaulting their youngest son. Micah refuses to talk one-on-one with the investigator, or even with his parents present. Rather, he wants his twenty-one-year-old brother Bill—a Marine, no less—to be present during the questioning. With his brother in the room, Micah would not have to face the investigator alone, plus Bill may not be as judgmental or imposing as his parents.

Here’s the problem: Under current North Carolina law, if Micah asks for his older brother to be present, the detective can refuse the request and continue to talk to Micah one-on-one. Indeed, the detective must refuse to allow Bill’s presence during the questioning lest it result in Micah’s statements being suppressed in court. This confusing set of interrogation rules results from the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ odd ruling in In re M.L.T.H., which held that a juvenile could not have anyone present during interrogation except for a parent, guardian, custodian, or attorney.

This Recent Development argues that In re M.L.T.H. was wrongly decided. Part I lays out the facts of In re M.L.T.H. Part II discusses the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the state’s juvenile Miranda statute. Part III argues that In re M.L.T.H. was not based upon a proper interpretation of the juvenile Miranda statute nor upon state supreme court precedent. Part IV contends that In re M.L.T.H. could have far-reaching negative repercussions because it risks putting future investigators and juveniles at a disadvantage during questioning.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 89 N.C. L. Rev. Addendum 1 (2011)