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Statements – Voluntariness – Juveniles

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


… In fact, the Supreme Court has consistently recognized that a confession or waiver of rights by a juvenile is not the same as a confession or waiver by an adult. A defendant’s age is an important factor in determining whether a confession is voluntary. ……

Here, the circumstances weigh in favor of a determination that Morgan’s inculpatory statements were involuntary. When Morgan sat, alone, in the police interrogation room, he was not even old enough to be caddy on a golf course under Illinois law. And to repeat, he had no prior experience with the criminal justice system. Detective Cassidy continually challenged Morgan’s statement and accused him of lying, a technique which could easily lead a young boy to “confess” to anything. No friendly adult, moreover, was present during the questioning. When a youth officer was brought in, there is no evidence that he did anything to protect Morgan’s rights. As we made clear in Hardaway, “a state-provided youth officer who functions as nothing more than an observer will not be considered a friendly adult presence for purposes of the totality of the circumstances.” Hardaway, 302 F.3d at 765. Finally, after the first inculpatory statement was uttered, Morgan was given a standard version of his rights. Cf. Michael C., 442 U.S. at 726-27 (a 16-year-old juvenile voluntarily and knowingly waived his Fifth Amendment rights under an interrogation where he had considerable experience with the police and had his Miranda rights explained to him); United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 40 (2nd Cir. 1997) (confession voluntary after juvenile had rights explained to him by FBI agent). A comparison with Hardaway is relevant. There, “with the gravest misgivings,” we held that a state court’s decision that a confession by a 14-year-old with extensive prior history with the criminal justice system, including 19 arrests, was not involuntary was not unreasonable. Hardaway, 302 F.3d at 759. In contrast, here, Morgan was 3 years younger and inexperienced with the police. Considering these facts, we cannot say the state court’s decision was reasonable. The statements should have been suppressed. At the very least, the admissibility of his statements —on Miranda and voluntariness grounds—should have been vigorously challenged in pretrial motions by his counsel. Not to have done so compels the conclusion that counsel was ineffective.

The majority expresses explicit concern about the danger of an 11-year old giving an unreliable, coerced confession [e.g., fn. 6: “that danger is certainly a possibility when the person is an 11-year-old placed in an intimidating situation”]. Indeed, the majority intimates that an 11-year-old simply can’t “understand the inherently abstract concepts of the Miranda rights and what it means to waive them” [fn. 11, citing authorities with respect to “children’s susceptibility to adults’ suggestions during interrogations”]. But there is also an interesting subtext, appearing nowhere in the opinion, but as was widely reported in local news reports (no longer available non-commercially on-line), the confession was “taken by the same Chicago police detective who later claimed two boys confessed to killing Ryan Harris. … The boys were later exonerated by DNA tests ….” Harris’ false confession was described in the following terms by a law review article (authored, perhaps not coincidentally by A.M.’s attorney): “Of all the proven false confessions involving very young children, perhaps the most notorious case” was Harris’s. (The author added in a footnote that A.M.’s confession bore the same hallmarks of falseness.) Hard to believe this background didn’t weigh on the minds of the 7th Circuit panel.

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