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Youth Waiver Project

 

Ensuring that a suspect in a criminal investigation understands his/her legal rights is crucial. In cases where youth are involved (aged 12-18), investigators must use what is known as a Youth Waiver Form to ensure the youth understand their rights during an interview. Unfortunately, a study by Eastwood, Snook and Luther (2015) found that Youth Waiver Forms are overly lengthy, involve complex sentences, and contain difficult words that youth may not be familiar with. In fact, youth that read the currently used waiver understood only 40% of the content.

In light of the need to ensure comprehension of rights for youth, the Psychology and Law Lab at Memorial University has commenced a project supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Already, the researchers have had great success in finding empirical support for techniques that increase comprehension of legal rights. Specifically, by avoiding complex legal jargon, shortening the overall length of the form, and reinforcing key points (among other techniques), our researchers have been able to increase comprehension levels to 80%.

In the interest of this ongoing project, the Psychology and Law Lab is currently working on the creation of “interrogation safety instructions”, which can be seen as analogous to the videos and pamphlets delivered to patrons on airplanes. The instructions, which are grounded in cognitive load theory, provide information in audio and visual format to maximize comprehension. Furthermore, the instructions would standardize the rights-delivery process, eliminating any room for human error in delivery.

We believe that this research may have significant implications for youth, police officers, and the overall administration of justice in Canada. We invite any interested practitioners to get in touch if they want more information or would like to discuss the project further.

Feel free to contact us at YouthWaiverProject@gmail.com, or if you have more specific questions, check out our researcher bios and e-mail the team individually. We appreciate any suggestions, feedback, willingness to be involved in pilot testing, or intent to help.

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