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Tenisha Carter v. Thompson, 7th Cir No. 11-2202, 8/14/12

seventh circuit decision

Habeas Review – Confessions – Voluntariness 

Given the deferential nature of habeas review, the state court reasonably determined that a 16-year-old’s confession after 55 hours of interrogation was voluntary:

Particularly in light of the highly deferential standard due to the state court, we have no reason to doubt that it took into account all of the relevant facts, highlighting only those that seemed especially pertinent to the voluntariness of the confession. Etherly, 619 F.3d at 662 (“How much weight to assign each factor on facts similar to those in Etherly’s case may differ from court to court, and reasonable jurists may certainly disagree.”); Gilbert v. Merchant, 488 F.3d 780, 794 (7th Cir. 2007) (affirming the state court’s finding of voluntariness even though the record “did not speak to a number of relevant considerations”). This is just what the Supreme Court found in Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3 (2002). In that case, the petitioner asserted that the California state court failed to consider certain factors in its evaluation of the “totality of the circumstances” with respect to a jury-coercion claim. The Court brushed that argument aside, noting that the California court had discussed those factors elsewhere in the opinion and commented that “[t]he contention that the California court ‘failed to consider’ facts and circumstances that it had taken the trouble to recite strains credulity.” Early, 537 U.S. at 9.

In the end, while it is unsettling that Carter was in the police station for 55 hours without a blanket, pillow, change of clothes, or access to a shower, and without being told that she could leave, the state court’s decision was not objectively unreasonable. She entered the police station on December 20 voluntarily as a witness to the murder. During the lengthy time she was at the station, she was permitted to move freely until her confession on December 22 in the wee hours of the morning. The evidence suggests that Carter slept at the station because her mother was in jail and her father was concerned for her safety outside the station. She had spoken with her father and a youth officer prior to confessing and had been read her Miranda rights before taking the polygraph. Unprompted by the police officers, she gave her initial confession on her way to the bathroom. She turned down her father’s offer to get her a lawyer. Her father was with her when she gave two of her confessions, and her mother was allowed to join her for one of them. This is enough for the state court to conclude that her confession was voluntary.

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