Do adolescents with DLD understand their legal rights?

Lieser, A. M., Van der Voort, D., & Spaulding, T. J. (2019). You have the right to remain silent: The ability of adolescents with developmental language disorder to understand their legal rights. Journal of communication disorders, 82, 105920.

What was the aim of the study?

Research has found a higher rate of DLD in youth offenders than in the general adolescent population. As is required by law, youth offenders are informed of their legal rights. In the US, these are known as the Miranda Rights. A Miranda warning is when an officer informs you of what those rights are. As individuals with DLD struggle with language, it is probable that they have difficulty comprehending the Miranda Rights. This is especially true considering that the Miranda warning uses difficult vocabulary and has complex sentence structures. The warning also requires someone to make inferences (or understand ‘hidden meanings’). It may also be difficult for someone with DLD to understand this information because the set of warnings is often presented all at once. This study looked at the comprehension of Miranda Rights in adolescents with DLD compared to adolescents without DLD. The group of individuals without DLD was also called the TD (typically developing) group.

What was found?

  • The group of TD (typically developing) adolescents had better comprehension of Miranda Rights than those with DLD.

  • The TD group correctly understood 70%, while the group of adolescents with DLD understood 43%.

  • How many adolescents were ‘at risk’ of failing to properly understand the Miranda warnings? 15 out of 20 adolescents with DLD, but only 6 out of 20 TD adolescents.

  • Adolescents with DLD were 7 times more likely to have difficulty understanding the Miranda warnings compared to adolescents without DLD.

What do the findings mean?

This paper found that adolescents with DLD had significant difficulty on four tasks that assessed their comprehension of Miranda Rights. These tasks involved: 1) paraphrasing each component (saying it in a different way), 2) defining vocabulary that appears in the Miranda Rights, 3) judging whether sentences paraphrased in different ways hold the same meaning, and 4) understanding the significance of Miranda Rights in an interrogation context. The findings suggest that the Miranda Rights should be simplified for adolescents, considering many of those with DLD and some without DLD struggled to understand them. Future research could examine whether an adolescent’s understanding of Miranda Rights influences whether they go to trial, alongside the verdict and sentencing length.

Where can I read this paper?

This paper is not open access. If you wish to read the full paper, please email and request a copy of the paper.