Washington, DC (May 22, 2023)—An amici curiae brief is a filing with the court from an individual or organization who is not a party to the litigation, but who can assist the court by providing special knowledge or insight on the issues in the case. Given our breadth of expertise, CSSP is often asked to sign on as amici curiae on cases of significance to the rights of children, youth, and families.
Most recently, we were asked to sign on to the Amicus Curiae submitted by the Juvenile Law Center, Pinix Law LLC, and other juvenile and child welfare experts in an appeal brought by a 14-year-old boy (known as D.) with a history of trauma, who was ordered by his step-father—as punishment for failing to memorize Bible verses—to carry large amounts of wood in the snow, and to supervise his two cousins to do the same. The boy’s actions taken to keep his younger cousin on task as his stepfather had ordered ultimately resulted in his cousin’s accidental death from hypothermia. The night his cousin died, the police interrogated the boy three times alone without providing any Miranda warnings.
D.’s appeal from the denial of his motion to suppress the statements he made during the three police interrogations centers on the significance of adolescent development and the constitutional issues presented by the interrogations. The amicus curiae argue that consistent with research on the effects of trauma on adolescent brain development, D. displayed significant signs of emotional distress and disengagement during his interrogations, was not able to understand, appreciate or enforce his rights, and that because his faculties were impaired, any statements made during the interrogation were involuntary. Among other things, the brief relies on recent Supreme Court precedent recognizing the significance of adolescent development, including in the context of interrogations. See Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 569-70 (2005) and Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 471-72 (2012).
Adolescent development is a centerpiece of the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s (CSSP) Youth Thrive framework; the research that forms the basis for Youth Thrive explains the gradual development of the pre-frontal cortex during adolescence and the corresponding spike in risk taking and emotional reactivity that can sometimes impair decision making in young people. Youth Thrive also describes the potential adverse consequences of trauma on the adolescent brain, and its potential to further impair cognitive faculties in adolescents, particularly when they are placed in stressful environments. Given our expertise in the area of adolescent development, CSSP was pleased to join the Amicus Curiae to support the appellant’s argument that adolescent development and the impact of trauma on the adolescent brain must be considered in the determination of whether the police interrogations of this 14-year-old boy suffering from a history of trauma were lawful.
About CSSP. The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children, youth, and families thrive. We translate ideas into action, promote public policies grounded in equity, and support strong and inclusive communities. We advocate with and for all children, youth, and families marginalized by public policies and institutional practices. Learn more at www.CSSP.org.