Juvenile interrogations found valid

On January 12, 2010 The Massachusetts appeals court in an unpublished opinion dealth with several areas of law regarding Interrogations. In COMMONWEALTH vs. Ivar I a juvenile, 08-P-1714 MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28 the court dealt with an order allowing the juvenile’s motion to suppress physical evidence and his three statements to the police.

The juvenile was accused of stealing a safe containing, among other things, an expensive family heirloom watch, from his parents’ bedroom. He gave the first of several statements to the police in his living room. Franklin police officers, armed and in uniform, had come to the house in response to his father’s call; he told the police that his son had admitted doing something terrible — ripping the safe out of the wall.

The motion judge found that the juvenile’s living room, where two officers interviewed him, ‘was not a restrictive or coercive environment.’ The juvenile was not in handcuffs; his mother was present. Apart from the police admonishing the juvenile to tell the truth, ‘there was no indication that the interview was particularly aggressive.’ After he told the police that he and another man had dumped the safe in a nearby pond, the juvenile and his mother agreed that he would go with the police and show them the location.

The motion judge found that the juvenile was a suspect from the time that the police arrived at the house and, also, that he was accompanied by a police officer continually until he was arrested several hours later. From this, the judge concluded that a reasonable person in the juvenile’s position would not have felt free to leave. Thus, he reasoned, the juvenile was in custody during the living room interview, and Miranda warnings were required.

We disagree. ‘We accept the judge’s subsidiary findings absent clear error but conduct an independent review of his ultimate findings and conclusions of law.’ Commonwealth v. Jimenez, 438 Mass. 213, 218 (2002). To determine whether the defendant was in custody, ‘we examine four factors: (1) the place of the interrogation; (2) whether the police conveyed any belief or opinion that the person being questioned was a suspect; (3) whether the questioning [was] aggressive or informal; and (4) whether the suspect was free to end the interview by leaving the place of interrogation, or whether the interview ended with the defendant’s arrest.’ Commonwealth v. Murphy, 442 Mass. 485, 493 (2004), citing Commonwealth v. Sneed, 440 Mass. 216, 220 (2003) (custody determination depends on the ‘objective circumstances of the interrogation’).

‘The defendant bears the burden of proving custody. . . . The test is an objective one: whether a reasonable person in the suspect’s shoes would experience the environment in which the interrogation took place as coercive.’ Commonwealth v. Larkin, 429 Mass. 426, 432 (1999). After evaluating all of the circumstances, we are satisfied that the juvenile did not meet his burden of proving that he was in custody when he spoke to the police in his living room. See Commonwealth v. Sneed, 440 Mass. at 220.”

The court further addressed the issue of the “interested adult consultation” requirement for certain juveniles in stating “When the juvenile went with the police to the pond and repeated his story, the officer’s observations convinced the officer that the juvenile’s story could not be true. He took the juvenile back to the police station and, in the presence of the juvenile’s mother, advised both of them of his Miranda rights. Both the mother and the boy signed a form indicating that they understood those rights. The police then left the room. The juvenile and his mother were left alone and the mother told her son to tell the truth. Afterwards, the juvenile told a story significantly different from the one he had first told the police.

The motion judge found that, at the police station, the mother was not acting as an interested adult, but rather as the victim of a crime, and that the police should have understood that. He did not find that the mother ‘lacked the mental capacity, sobriety, or genuine interest in the juvenile’s welfare to provide him with a meaningful opportunity for consultation . . . with an adult.’ Commonwealth v. Guthrie G., 66 Mass. App. Ct. 414, 420 (2006), S. C., 449 Mass. 1028 (2007). In addition, the judge conceded that the mother ‘no doubt cares for her son and his well-being.’

The Supreme Judicial Court described the necessary inquiry, observing as follows:

‘In deciding whether an adult advising a juvenile during a custodial interrogation is an interested adult, the facts must be viewed from the perspective of the officials conducting the interview. . . . If, at the time of the interrogation (as assessed by objective standards), it should have been reasonably apparent to the officials questioning a juvenile that the adult who was present on his or her behalf lacked capacity to appreciate the juvenile’s situation and to give advice, or was actually antagonistic toward the juvenile, a finding would be warranted that the juvenile has not been assisted by an interested adult . . . ‘ (emphasis supplied).

In Commonwealth v. McCra, 427 Mass. 564, 568-569 (1998), the court found that the juvenile defendant’s aunt was able to serve as an interested adult, despite the fact that the defendant was a suspect in the murder of his parents and sister. In the present case, to an objective observer, the mother’s concern about the missing watch would likely seem far less of a conflict for her than the situation faced by the aunt in McCra, and, as in McCra, ‘there were no objective manifestations of animosity or hostility’ between the juvenile and his mother. Id. at 569.

At the end of the first police station interview, the juvenile was arrested. He was later released, and, the following day, at the request of the police, the juvenile and his mother returned to the police station. They were again advised of their Miranda rights and they signed the waiver form again. The testimony was conflicting, but the judge concluded that ‘[i]t seems that [they] were not given an opportunity for private consultation before questioning began on this second day.’ It is clear, however, that neither the mother nor the juvenile requested an additional opportunity to consult, despite the fact that they had been afforded it the day before. In this second police station interview, the police officer confronted the juvenile with his belief that a third person had been involved and his knowledge that some of the items had been pawned. The juvenile then admitted that he had received $100 for pawning some of the items.

‘There is no requirement that the police inform of the right to consult.’ Commonwealth v. Mark M., 59 Mass. App. Ct. 86, 91 (2003). This is particularly true where, as here, the mother and her son had been given an opportunity to consult on the day before and did so. For the reasons stated above, we hold that the police conduct at issue here was legally authorized at each step of the process. See Commonwealth v. Buchanan, 384 Mass. 103, 108 (1981) (fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine ‘not implicated if the tree is not poisonous’). Therefore, the motion judge’s order allowing and the motion to suppress is reversed.”

Commentary,

Although an unpublished opinion, A summary decision pursuant to rule 1:28, issued after February 25, 2008, may be cited for its persuasive value but, because of the limitations, not as binding precedent. Juvenile interrogations present many complicated scenarios, and one of them is whether a victim may also serve as an “interested adult”. Take particular note of the delay in the 2nd and 3rd interrogations and the lack of warnings imparted in the 3rd instance.

Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

About Attorney Ronald A. Sellon

Ronald A. Sellon is a licensed Attorney in the state of Massachusetts and U.S. District Court, Massachusetts as well as a Sergeant with a Municipal Police Department and U.S. military Veteran. Additionally, he has taught Criminal Procedure at the Massachusetts State Police Academy in New Braintree and has written a text on Criminal Procedure for police field training officer programs. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, was a 2008 recipient of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (Mass C.O.P.) Presidents award and holds a Bachelors Degree in Law Enforcement, a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice Administration, and a Juris Doctor Law Degree. Questions related to content material may be directed to RSellon@PoliceLegalPromotions.com
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