On Monday, The Seattle City Council passed the MiChance Dunlap-Gittens’ Youth Rights Ordinance, which gives protections to children and young people by requiring legal counsel to explain their Miranda rights.
The ordinance, which protects children and young people by requiring a lawyer when interacting with law enforcement, came directly from community stakeholders concerned about youth not understanding their rights when interacting with police officers.
The MiChance Dunlap-Gittens’ Youth Rights Ordinance is named after a teenager who in 2017, was shot and killed by plainclothes deputies during a misguided King County Sheriff’s Office’s sting operation that wrongly targeted two teens. Dunlap-Gittens’ was a high school senior set to graduate from Federal Way High School. His mother described him as a good son with a big heart, who wanted to be a lawyer and enjoyed writing poetry.
“We’ve heard from young people themselves, parents, activists and those steeped in the criminal justice system that children and youth often don’t understand their rights when speaking to law enforcement. Young people are children, and should absolutely have adults representing them when making critical decisions that can impact the rest of their lives, said Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales. Connecting young people to a lawyer who can help them understand their rights means our children will be less likely to have unfair and biased contact with the criminal justice system, increasing community safety and protecting their futures.”
The MiChance Dunlap-Gittens’ Youth Rights Ordinance prohibits law enforcement officers from questioning youths age 18 or younger, except in limited circumstances, where a Miranda warning is administered until they’ve spoken with a lawyer at King County Department of Public Defense who will explain their Miranda Rights to the young people in question. The ordinance also prohibits law enforcement from requesting permission from a young person 18 years and younger to conduct a person, property, or vehicle search unless that young person has spoken with the Department of Public Defense and has chosen to waive their rights.
The City Council received a briefing from Anita Khandelwal, Director of King County Department of Public Defense, and Sean Goode, Executive Director of the youth diversion program CHOOSE 180 about the ordinance.
Khandelwal and Goode shared research demonstrating how children and young people often don’t understand their rights or legal protections. Young people, because of their developing adolescent brains, don’t understand Miranda warnings. Additionally, power dynamics between armed police officers and young people, coupled with racial bias, creates pressure for youths to respond, causing an unfair or unwarranted interaction with the criminal justice system.
“This is simply saying yes, children should have adult voices, that are educated and informed, present in their life when they’re making critical decisions,” said Goode during the presentation to Council. “And yes, we understand that the children most often engaged by the criminal legal system are the Black, Indigenous, young children of color in our Seattle community.”
According to officials, attorneys will be provided by the King County Department of Public Defense on a 24/7 basis. The Department already has capacity to perform these duties, and this ordinance will not negatively impact their operations.