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Aris Etherly v. Davis, 7th Cir. No. 09-3535, 08/25/2010

7th Cir. decision; Order denying rehearing and amending opinion, 10/10/15

Habeas – Voluntary Statement – Juvenile

State court determination that juvenile’s custodial statement to police was voluntary wasn’t objectively unreasonable., notwithstanding his age (15), borderline intellectual functioning and lack of criminal background. “(I)t is the totality of the circumstances underlying a juvenile confession, rather than the presence or absence of a single circumstance, that determines whether or not the confession should be deemed voluntary.” The state court applied that test:

The Illinois Appellate Court evaluated and discussed the importance of Etherly’s age. Because of his youth, the court also considered whether a friendly adult was present. …

The Illinois Appellate Court also recognized and weighed Etherly’s lack of intellectual capacity. Although the court concluded that this weighed against admission of the statement, the court credited Dr. Pan’s testimony that Etherly understood that he was not required to talk to the police and that the prosecutor would act upon any information provided by Etherly. …

… The state court did not give short-shrift to Etherly’s low intelligence, and its reliance on Dr. Pan’s report was not objectively unreasonable.

With regard to the remaining factors, the Illinois Appellate Court considered whether police engaged in physical or psychological coercion and determined that none existed. The court reasoned that “merely telling [Etherly] to tell the truth . . . to show the judge he cooperated does not constitute a promise of leniency nor does it evidence threats or coercion.” (Appellant App. at 38.) Further, the court noted that Etherly was given his Miranda warnings on multiple occasions, including after the conversation with the unidentified officer, and he “repeatedly indicated that he understood his rights.” (Id. at 37.) The court also observed that Detective Golab made clear that the police could make no promises. Thus, despite Etherly’s age, lack of intelligence, and lack of criminal background, the state court found that the weight of the evidence, on balance, favored admission of Etherly’s statement.

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