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Do Minors Have Broader Rights Under the 4th Amendment Than Adults?

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The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The New Mexico Children‘s Code further protects juveniles and sometimes expands their constitutional rights.

In a recent opinion involving juvenile criminal charges, however, the New Mexico Court of Appeals held that in relation to 4th Amendment searches and seizures, under the Children‘s Code minors have no greater rights than adults. Specifically, an officer is not required to advise a minor of his right to refuse consent to a search of his vehicle.

The underlying case in State v. Carlos A. involved a routine traffic stop for a non-functioning license plate light. The Defendant driver was seventeen years old at the time. When the officer pulled the Defendant over, he noticed a strong odor of marijuana and asked Defendant if he would consent to a search of his person.

The driver consented. Upon finding nothing suspicious from the search, the officer called for backup and when backup arrived asked Defendant whether he would consent to a search of his car. Defendant agreed to the search whereupon marijuana and other paraphernalia were found. The defendant was then placed under arrest and charges were brought against him. The time between the stop and the end of the automobile search was no more than ten minutes and the entire exchange was non-threatening and cordial at all times.

At trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the search of his car. The Defendant argued that his consent was involuntary because officers were required to inform him of his right to deny consent to the search due to his status as a minor under the New Mexico Children‘s Code. The district court and the New Mexico Court of Appeals both disagreed.

Under the 4th Amendment, any unreasonable search or seizure by government agents requires a search warrant unless there is a recognized exception. Consent is one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. To demonstrate consent, the prosecution must show that under the totality of the circumstances, the consent was voluntary and not the product of intimidation or coercion.

To assess the totality of the circumstances, a court must evaluate all of the factors involved, including the particular situation of the person giving consent, the circumstances of the detention, and the behavior of the government agents requesting consent. One of the factors considered is whether the defendant was advised of his or her right to refuse consent. However, being advised of the right to refuse consent is only one factor to consider and not dispositive of the question of whether consent was voluntary under the totality of the circumstances analysis.

Having established that the 4th Amendment does not require a police officer to advise an adult of their right to refuse consent to a search, the Court of Appeals went on to analyze whether the New Mexico Children‘s Code required it when the person giving consent was a juvenile.

Under Section 32A-2-14(C) of the Children‘s Code any juvenile interrogated by police must first be advised of his or her rights. This provision basically mirrors the 5th Amendment right to remain silent and a warning that anything said will be used against them. However, the Court in this case refused to expand this protection to 4th Amendment searches and seizures making the distinction between a consensual search and a custodial interrogation.
Therefore, as the law in New Mexico stands, a juvenile‘s 4th Amendment rights are not violated if he or she is not advised of the right to refuse consent to a search if the consent was otherwise voluntary. While the fact that the juvenile was not made aware of their right to refuse consent will be a factor in determining whether the consent was voluntary, it is not dispositive. If, as in this case, the detention was brief, in public, and the officers showed no signs of intimidation, it is likely that consent will be deemed voluntary even if the juvenile was not advised of his right to refuse.

Each case is unique and requires individual analysis. Moreover, the case does nothing that would allow a nonconsensual search. In any case where the search was non-consensual or perhaps unknowing, it is important to raise these issues with your child‘s criminal defense attorney.

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