Alameda County Public Defender Staffs New 24-hour Hotline For Arrested Teens

The Alameda County Public Defender’s Office reports that it’s excited to announce a new, free 24-hour phone service to advise teenagers of their rights to remain silent and consult with an attorney after being arrested.

The Public Defender’s Office created the hotline in response to a new California law that went into effect in January requiring police provide an opportunity to children aged 15 and younger to consult with a lawyer prior to police questioning. The consultation cannot be waived except in very narrow circumstances. If the child does not get the consultation, then a judge can consider that when deciding whether the statement should be introduced in any resulting criminal case.

“It’s never a good idea for anyone under arrest – adult or teenager – to give a statement to police without first talking to their lawyer, yet people still do,” said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods. “Our hotline lets teens know that we are here to give them legal advice 24 hours a day.”

Since creating the hotline earlier this year, the Public Defender’s Office has fielded 37 phone calls with arrested teens. Calls go to the office’s main switchboard during business hours where they are answered by Juvenile Attorneys, and after hours, to a rotating group of managers in the office. There’s also an interpreter line for children who may not speak English. The office will not release the number publicly but has provided it to 26 local law enforcement agencies and 17 school districts. Local police agencies are cooperating with the new law and have been facilitating teens’ use of the hotline.

Research shows children are less likely than adults to understand their constitutional rights to consult with an attorney and to remain silent, as well as the ramifications of waiving those rights. Although police are required to advise everyone under arrest, including children, of their Miranda rights, hearing it from a defense attorney is different from hearing it from police officers.

“It was great to be able to talk to a 14-year-old kid in the middle of the night, to explain his rights to him, to let him know that he would have an attorney if the case went to court and then to call his parents to let them know exactly what was happening to their child,” Woods said of one call. “Being arrested and accused of a crime can be a frightening experience for children, as can being questioned by adult police officers. With this hotline, we can provide them with some tools and advice to protect themselves even before they appear in court.”

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