Some of the detainees in the Madison County Juvenile Detention Center say they learned too late the cost of not understanding or not embracing their right to stay silent during a police interrogation.
They shared their experiences in essays on the importance of the Miranda rights for a Law Day 2016 contest. The essays expressed distrust of the interrogation process and advocated for a person’s right to an attorney in those situations, according to Jennifer Jumper, an attorney at Foley & Mansfield’s St. Louis office who helped judge the entries.
Law Day is an annual event held nationally on May 1. It celebrates the role of law in society and aims to create a deeper understanding of the legal profession.The theme honored the 50th anniversary since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miranda — the case known commonly as a person’s right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning.
Excerpts of the essays were read at the Law Day luncheon April 29 at the Wildey Theater. The local event was hosted by the Madison County Bar Association and organized by a Law Day committee.
The essays affected the people who read them, Jumper said.
“We noticed that ‘fear’ was a common theme among the essays,” she said. “There were some essays where the students noted that they did not remain silent and cooperated with the police out of fear. They thought that things would be worse for them if they were not seen as cooperative, admitting that they learned too little, too late that it would have been better to have remained silent.”
The detainee whose essay won first place said the system viewed him or her as reckless for not cooperating and asking for an attorney, Jumper said.
“One thing that stood out to us was a comment by one of the students that he or she grew up being told that if they told the truth everything would be okay,” Jumper said. “This was true in most instances except when being questioned by the police. Many of the essays expressed the concern that the police would try to trick them when asking them questions. One wrong word could have serious implications.”
The contestants completed the essays during their regular studies. The winners won prizes, including $250 for first place, $150 for second and $75 for third.
Besides the essay contest, the event offered a chance to recognize members of the bar who taught the People’s Law School workshops, including Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder and attorney Barb Sheere.
The bar also recognize the Rev. Danny Holliday, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Alton, by presenting him with the Liberty Bell Award. It’s a nationally recognized award for a non-lawyer who promotes a better understanding of the law and encourages respect for the law and courts.
“It’s important that we as attorneys recognize not just attorneys but people who are not in the field,” Amy Meyer, Madison County Recorder and an event organizer, told the Record.