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Custody — Juvenile Suspect

 A.M. v. Butler, 360 F.3d 787 (7th Cir. 2004)


In determining whether a person is “in custody,” the question is whether, examining the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in the petitioner’s position would have felt “at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.” Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995). In making this determination, “the only relevant inquiry is how a reasonable man in the suspect’s position would have understood his situation.”Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442 (1984). The Court is clear that “the initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned.” Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 323 (1994). See also, Maine v. Thibodeau, 475 U.S. 1144, 1146 (1986).…

While giving lip service to the objective standard, stating that the trial court must “ascertain what a reasonable person, innocent of any crime, would perceive under similar circumstances,” the Illinois court shunned this objective test, substituting instead a focus on the subjective belief of Detective Cassidy. The court stressed that Cassidy believed Morgan was merely a witness and, for that reason, Miranda warnings were not required. That is not, however, the correct inquiry under Supreme Court precedent. …


Even without this error, the court’s evaluation of the totality of the circumstances, see, e.g., Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112, was objectively unreasonable. …At the outset, we note that, in making the objective inquiry, Morgan’s age is an important factor. … Morgan was only 11 when he sat alone in the police interrogation room.

With Morgan’s age in mind, we turn to the circumstances of this case and note first that Morgan was not a seasoned juvenile delinquent. In fact, he had no prior experience with the criminal justice system when he was questioned for almost 2 hours in a closed interrogation room with no parent, guardian, lawyer, or anyone at his side. Since the police told his mother it was unnecessary for her to come to the station, he was at the mercy of the detectives to drive him home. Thus, he had no way of leaving the police station even if he felt he could leave. Nor was he ever told he was free to go or that he was not under arrest. Furthermore, compare this encounter with the police with his prior two, where he sat in a police car outside his own home and then at a desk in a public area of the police station, all while the police were “nice” to him. Finally, there are significant concerns regarding the mode of questioning. Morgan insisted that the detectives leaned closely in towards him when they spoke, promising him that both God and the police would forgive him for what he did, and assuring him that if he told the truth he could go home to his brother’s birthday party. Cassidy denied these activities but acknowledged that he was close enough to touch Morgan and that he repeatedly told Morgan that he was lying. All of these facts lead to the conclusion that a reasonable person in Morgan’s situation would have considered his freedom curtailed.…

Judge Easterbrook’s dissent points out that the Supreme Court has never held “that ‘custodial interrogation’ depends on the suspect’s age” (the Court must have enunciated a controlling principle before federal habeas relief may be entertained); and, indeed, a subsequently-decided case, Yarborough v. Michael Alvarado, 02-1684, 6/1/04 (“Our opinions applying the Miranda custody test have not mentioned the suspect’s age, much less mandated its consideration”), decision below: 316 F.3d 841 (9th Cir. 2003), makes the result in A.M. questionable .

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