Miranda Waiver and ADHD

Steven Gaskell, Psy.D. ADHD & Miranda Rights, Knowing and Intelligent Waiver, Miranda Rights 0 Comments

Miranda Waiver - ADHD - Miranda Rights - Confessions

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Steven Gaskell, Psy.D.

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Dr. Steven Gaskell, forensic psychologist at Psycholegal Assessments, Inc. provides several types of forensic psychological evaluations to the courts, as well as expert witness testimony.  Dr. Gaskell performs evaluations related to the issues of Miranda Rights and whether or not an individual waived their rights knowingly, intelligently, and without police coercion.  This post focuses on the research regarding Miranda Rights Waivers and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Relevant Research Regarding Mental Impairment, Miranda Rights Waiver, and ADHD

An estimated 318,000 impaired defendants participate in police interrogations without a knowing waiver of their Miranda rights each year (Rogers, 2008).  When the number of defendants lacking an intelligent waiver is added to this estimate, the number of defendants who are providing incriminating evidence to police without a valid waiver of their Miranda rights increases exponentially.  Considering that a defendant’s confession is likely the “single most influential factor” in a subsequent guilty verdict at trial (Oberlander et al., 2003), Miranda-related competencies are arguably one of the most crucial pretrial issues.  Specific deficits in reading and listening comprehension are particularly relevant to Miranda competency (Rogers & Shuman, 2005) and individuals with ADHD typically show deficits in complex attention and verbal memory (Obolensky, 2006).   However, the validity of Miranda waivers goes unexamined in nearly all confession cases (Fulero & Everington, 1995).

Gudjonsson (2003) outlined the psychological vulnerabilities that should be taken into account in a comprehensive evaluation of Miranda waivers and subsequent confessions.  His model highlighted four domains of functioning that could affect suspects’ ability to provide a valid Miranda waiver and confession: (a) cognitive functioning, (b) mental disorders, (c) abnormal mental states, and (d) personality traits. Rogers, Harrison, Hazelwood, and Sewell (2007), utilizing their own Miranda research scales, found that overall Axis I impairment played a significant role in both Miranda comprehension and reasoning ability.  Mentally disordered defendants had widespread difficulties in understanding all but the simplest Miranda warnings, irrespective of their past experiences with the criminal justice system and averaging close to a high school education. Persons who suffer from ADHD, an Axis I impairment, are severely limited in their ability to register and process new information.

Research has indicated that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been associated with substantive cognitive deficits and it is highly prevalent in persons involved in the criminal justice system.  Eyestone and Howell (1994) reported that one-fourth of adult criminal defendants currently meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD.  Research utilizing multiple neuropsychological assessment instruments with a range of populations have all concluded that ADHD is associated with a number of cognitive deficits in adults, such as difficulties with complex and sustained attention as well as verbal memory.  Inattention remains a prominent clinical feature of ADHD in adults (Davidson, 2008).

Prior research with juvenile defendants (Viljoen & Roesch, 2005) found that individuals with a high number of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms demonstrated poorer performance on measures of Miranda comprehension.  ADHD symptoms were significantly associated with deficits on several Miranda scales.

Hazelwood (2009) was the first researcher to investigate deficits in Miranda comprehension and reasoning in adults with attention deficits and symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  The sample consisted of 118 detained adult offenders housed in a jail and the mean educational level was at a high school graduate level.  Overall, the sample of offenders reported an average of approximately six ADHD symptoms, with inattention being more prevalent than impulsivity.  Symptoms related to inattention were significantly correlated with poorer performance on measures of Miranda comprehension.  It was found that defendants reporting severe ADHD symptomatology evidenced poorer comprehension of Miranda warnings and Miranda vocabulary than defendants reporting no or mild ADHD symptoms.  This finding was especially true when the Miranda warning was administered orally rather than in a written format, which suggests that individuals suffering from ADHD symptomatology have more difficulty processing and comprehending orally-presented material and that warnings presented orally place higher cognitive demands on the individual than written warnings.  This result was similar to prior research that found that recently arrested detainees failed to comprehend orally-presented warnings almost three times more frequently than those given their rights in a written format.  These findings indicate that use of oral advisements strongly disadvantages suspects’ ability to comprehend the basic concepts of Miranda warnings.

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