American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 50, Issue 1 (2014)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


The landmark trilogy of United States Supreme Court juvenile sentencing decisions over the last decade is well known. Starting with the Roper v. Simmons 1 ruling in 2005 that abolished the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18, the Court has developed what might be called a “kids are different” Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. The last three years has seen the Court first outlaw life without parole sentences for juvenile non-homicide offenders 2 and then prohibit the mandatory imposition of this sentence on any offender under the age of 18.3

During this same time period, and utilizing a similar rationale, the high Court applied this “kids are different” approach to its Fifth Amendment jurisprudence in the constitutional consideration of custodial interrogations. In J.D.B. v. North Carolina,4 the U.S. Supreme Court held that law enforcement must consider a suspect’s age when weighing whether he is in custody and entitled to Miranda warnings.5 The decision marked a reversal of sorts, as only seven years earlier the Court had rejected the proposition that clearly established U.S. Supreme Court law required a consideration of age in the Miranda custody calculus.6 In J.D.B., however, the Court saw no need to “blind [itself] to the commonsense reality” that children “will often feel bound to submit to police questioning.”7 It so held, in part, based on a concern about the “frighteningly high percentage of people” who confess to crimes that “they never committed” as a result of the “inherently compelling pressures” of custodial interrogation—a problem “all the more troubling” and “acute,” the Court warned, when the subject is a juvenile.8 Even the four dissenting justices did “not dispute that many suspects who are under 18 will be more susceptible to police pressure than the average adult.”9