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teenager meets with lawyer

An audit conducted by the Seattle Office of Inspector General has revealed that the Seattle Police Department has consistently failed to comply with a 2020 city law that mandates providing youths under 18 access to an attorney before waiving their right to remain silent. In an examination of 50 cases from 2021 and 2022, the department followed the law only twice. The law requires police to connect young individuals with an attorney post-Miranda and before any questioning or vehicle searches, with an exception if immediate risk to life is present.


Seattle's law was followed by a similar state law in 2021, which saw 180 police departments making over 2,300 calls to provide lawyer access for youths. The Office of Public Defense noted a 96% success rate in responding to such calls within two minutes. Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who requested the audit, expressed disappointment at the SPD's 4% compliance rate, underscoring the law's straightforward nature as a civil rights protection.


The audit indicates a significant lack of awareness among Seattle police officers about the requirements of these new laws and the procedure for connecting youths with an attorney. The Inspector General recommends ways to improve compliance, focusing on updated training and guidance. Police leadership has agreed with the recommendations, including updating Miranda warning cards with information on youth attorney access. However, SPD's chief operating officer, Brian Maxey, has highlighted challenges in identifying the applicability of the law, such as determining a person's age and distinguishing between custodial questioning and preliminary inquiries. Despite recognizing inconsistencies in understanding and practice, SPD agrees that improvements are necessary.

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