Audit: Low Seattle PD compliance with law requiring youth access to lawyers

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SEATTLE (AP) — A new audit shows the Seattle Police Department has a low rate of compliance with a law requiring it to provide young people with access to a lawyer before they are interviewed.

The city Office of Inspector General’s audit, dated Friday, found officers complied with the law 4% of the time, based on an examination of 50 cases in 2021 and 2022, the Seattle Times reported.

Under a 2020 city law, after a young person is read their Miranda rights, police are supposed to connect them with a lawyer before questioning them or searching their vehicle, though there is an exception if an officer believes someone’s life is at risk.

The state Legislature in 2021 passed a similar law, under which police are supposed to call the state Office of Public Defense after an arrest and let the young person talk to a lawyer before questioning.

“Studies suggest that juveniles often do not fully comprehend the potential consequences of their actions, including waiving their rights after receiving Miranda warnings,” the Office of Inspector General wrote. “It is important that juveniles have access to an attorney to assist them in making decisions that impact their constitutional rights and have serious consequences in the criminal justice system.”

The audit found most officers seemed unaware of the requirements and of how to connect youth with lawyers. Audit recommendations mostly involved updating training and guidance, and police leadership agreed with them.

In a letter responding to the audit, Brian Maxey, the department’s chief operating officer, said it’s not always obvious whether someone is younger than 18. And, he wrote, the law only applies when someone is in custody and being questioned, not when officers are asking preliminary questions to determine if a crime has occurred.

Still, he said, the department agreed with the findings that “in some instances there are clear gaps in officers’ understanding of the laws and inconsistencies in practice.”

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