You Can’t Take It Back

We do an incredible disservice to our children by teaching them their rights but not their responsibilities, not even the age at which they may be held criminally responsible or what to do if they are accused of doing something illegal.  In the US, a child as young as 6 may be held criminally responsible and, in the vast majority of states, the age is a mere 7 because that’s the common law age for criminal responsibility.  Have you taught your 6 year old how to say: “I want a lawyer”?  If not, you should and “I want my mom/dad” will NOT protect the child in most states from further questioning.  It’s even questionable whether or not asking for a lawyer will do so.  Whatever a child says may “stick”.  He or she may not be able to take it back even if it’s purely a figment of his/her imagination.

When someone in law enforcement wants to chat with you or wants to come on your property, they aren’t there to help you.  They are there to collect evidence or they wouldn’t be spending their time with you.  Just say NO.  Whatever they see, hear, find will not be within your ability to “take back”.  You may think yourself completely innocent and bulletproof from any accusations.  I can assure you that you are not and those investigating you do so with a jaded view.  Whatever you voluntarily give them, you can’t take it back.

Many think little of plea bargaining a “first offense”.  Make a deal, pay the price, and move on.  Think twice about that if you didn’t commit the offense because you can’t take it back and it may have consequences down the road that you don’t expect.  That’s what happened to many when the 3 strikes laws were being passed, many already had 2 strikes and had no idea when they made those deals that the next offense (no matter how small or minor) could lead to life in prison.  And, once you have one offense on your record, you seriously increase the chances you will be accused of another in the future.

Admitting to an offense you didn’t commit in court to get a plea deal comes with a whole other price.  This is what you see on Law & Order, when a defendant “allocutes", describes the crime in detail.  If you are basically an honest person, lying under oath may well leave a scar you don’t expect.  It sounds so easy to simply say you did something you didn’t if it means paying a small fine and being able to move on without the pain, cost, and hassle of a trial that comes with the risk of far more serious penalties but many find it is not simple at all.  In addition, others may well presume you are guilty of much worse than you were convicted of as they will presume there was a “deal”.  Can you live with the lie?  Can you live with the questioning eyes of others?  Think at least twice before allocating to a crime you did not commit because you can’t take it back.

Amanda Knox has been found guilty of murder and other crimes against Meredith Kercher; of defamation against her former employer.  In an Italian court.  And I’m having trouble feeling any sympathy for her despite the American media’s clear intent to evoke that.  Ms. Knox is called a “girl” or a “child” in many of the media reports but this a woman.  She was 20 years old when Ms. Kercher was murdered.  She was a college student living independently and abroad.


Ms. Knox was interrogated at length.  Oh, yes, interrogation is scary.  It’s supposed to be.  Ms. Knox claims it was an aggressive interrogation.  I’m sure it was as they were investigating a vicious murder.  She says she was called a “stupid liar”.  Probably (and I’m surprised she wasn’t called worse).  She claims it was “abusive” because she got swatted on the back of the head, TWICE, and it went on for 14 hours.  GIVE ME A BREAK.

First she named her employer as the murderer to get herself out of there and then she confessed.  I’m sure she was thinking how unfair it all was and that she’d be able to “take it back” because everyone would see how unfair it was.  Nope, not me.  14 hours just isn’t that long.    To get me to name someone as a possible murderer when they aren’t or admit to a crime that could get me put to death (or jailed for the rest of my life, or even a much, much shorter period) is darn sure going to take more than 14 hours and a couple of swats to the back of my head.

We don’t like “coerced” confessions.  They are suspect.  In 1936, the US Supreme Court said they were unacceptable.  In that case, “witnesses freely admitted that the defendants confessed only after being subjected to brutal whippings by the officers. One defendant had also been subjected to being strung up by his neck from a tree in addition to the whippings” and THEN they were tortured.  Yep, those are coerced confessions.  In a 1940 case, “defendants were held without being able to see a lawyer or be arraigned for a period of a week,…  they were subject to questioning on a random basis, often alone in a room with up to ten police officers and other members of the community” and they weren’t advised of their right to be silent.  They finally confessed.  Yep, those are coerced confessions.

I’ll tell you that I won’t confess under those latter conditions, merely being held for a week and yapped at.  It’ll take something closer to that first set of circumstances to get me to confess to any crime, no matter how minor, I haven’t committed.  I would strongly suggest you all teach your children the level of coercion that’s required before they get to “take back” a confession.  Being interrogated for a few hours, being made uncomfortable, being afraid…  None of this is enough but kids tend to get that impression from TV and gossip.  Teach them that they need to have very tough skins, to withstand WAY more than you or their schools might dish out if they are interrogated by law enforcement.  If one confesses to crimes, one may very well not be able to take it back!

It has also been reported that Ms. Knox did cartwheels and was giggling during the interrogation.  If that is indeed true, it certainly shows a young woman who had not learned to behave like an adult.  Such behavior, whether legal or not, is so grossly inappropriate.  Appearances count too.  And you just can’t take it back when you behave like that in public.

As the world has become more complex, children encouraged to stay in school into their late 20's or longer, we infantilize our children for longer and longer.  In reality, if young people interact with the world at large and on their own, they should be infantilized less; taught their rights AND their responsibilities; that there may be very serious consequences imposed by those less forgiving than friends and family.  If your infantilized children hurt me and mine, I will not treat them as infants, exempt from consequences; nor will most people.  The law may indeed treat your infantilized child as a fully formed adult at a very young age, right up to the gas chamber.  Criminal responsibility starts at 6 years of age and grows right along with the child's capacity whether you help your child to that capacity or not is up to you and failure to do so may cost them dearly.  Start teaching them...

  • You have the right to remain silent.  You have the RESPONSIBILITY to remain silent.
  • You have the right not to incriminate yourself.  You have the RESPONSIBILITY not to incriminate yourself.
  • You have a right to a trial.  You have a RESPONSIBILITY not to lie under oath.
  • You have the right to your rights.  You have a RESPONSIBILITY to be a good citizen.

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