Generally a child will feel less free to leave when being questioned by a police officer than an adult would when they are not technically in police custody. This is relevant because once a person is ‘in custody’ the police are required to give a Miranda warning.
The U.S. Supreme Court legitimized this common sense notion in the face of an argument from government prosecutors that age should not be a factor when determining whether a person should be Mirandized. It ruled that a court should consider age as a factor in the Miranda analysis for juvenile criminal defendants.
The majority opinion in the case recognized the fundamental differences between adults and children and that not acknowledging this fact would strip children of the fundamental procedural safeguards that Miranda guarantees.
Even the dissenting opinion of the court recognized that on its face this determination seems sensible and modest. They argue however that Miranda should be a one size fits all solution that can be applied equally in all situations.
The case arose when a 13-year-old special education student was pulled from his classroom and questioned by a police officer. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the student was not in custody when questioned and did not deserve the Miranda warning. The Supreme Court overturned that decision.
The president of the American Bar Association illustrated the common sense reasoning behind this decision in a statement. “It is hard to imagine anyone feeling comfortable with a 13-year-old child being questioned by police without a Miranda warning.”
Source: American Bar Association Journal “Supreme Court Rules a Youth’s Age Is Relevant in Miranda Analysis” Debra Cassens Weiss, June 16, 2011