Juveniles pre-arrest statements made to police violate Miranda

In re Matthew W. (Cal. Ct. App., July 8, 2021, No. A159931) 2021 WL 2850407, at *1

Summary: Matthew W. appealed  from the juvenile court’s jurisdictional findings and dispositional order, in which the court sustained an allegation of assault with a deadly weapon and placed him on probation.

On appeal, Matthew W. contended that  the jurisdictional findings must be reversed because the juvenile court improperly admitted defendant’s pre-arrest statements to police made during a custodial interrogation, in violation of Miranda v. Arizona(1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (Miranda).

The Court concluded  that Matthew W.’s  pre-arrest statements to police were made during a custodial interrogation without the required Miranda advisements, and that the erroneous admission of evidence of those statements at the jurisdictional hearing prejudiced defendant. The Court reversed the court’s jurisdictional findings and dispositional order.

Procedural Background

On January 22, 2020, the Napa County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, subdivision (a), alleging that defendant had committed assault with a deadly weapon (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(1)—count one), and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury (§ 245, subd. (a)(4)—count two).

On March 4, 2020, at the dispositional hearing, the court declared defendant a ward of the court and placed him on probation with various terms and conditions, including an electronic search condition.

On March 17, 2020, defendant filed a notice of appeal.

Legal Analysis-Custody determination

Custody determinations are resolved by an objective standard: Would a reasonable person interpret the restraints used by the police as tantamount to a formal arrest? The totality of the circumstances surrounding an incident must be considered as a whole.’  Courts have identified a variety of circumstances to be considered as part of the custody determination. Among them are ‘whether contact with law enforcement was initiated by the police or the person interrogated, and if by the police, whether the person voluntarily agreed to an interview; whether the express purpose of the interview was to question the person as a witness or a suspect; where the interview took place; whether police informed the person that he or she was under arrest or in custody; whether they informed the person that he or she was free to terminate the interview and leave at any time and/or whether the person’s conduct indicated an awareness of such freedom; whether there were restrictions on the person’s freedom of movement during the interview; how long the interrogation lasted; how many police officers participated; whether they dominated and controlled the course of the interrogation; whether they manifested a belief that the person was culpable and they had evidence to prove it; whether the police were aggressive, confrontational, and/or accusatory; whether the police used interrogation techniques to pressure the suspect; and whether the person was arrested at the end of the interrogation.

“ ‘No one factor is dispositive. Rather, we look at the interplay and combined effect of all the circumstances to determine whether on balance they created a coercive atmosphere such that a reasonable person would have experienced a restraint tantamount to an arrest.’ [Citation.]” (In re I.F. (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 735, 759, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462 (I.F.), quoting People v. Aguilera (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1151, 1162, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 587.)

Additional considerations for juvenile cases

“In juvenile cases, the same factors still apply, but with an added consideration. In J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011) 564 U.S. 261, [277, 131 S.Ct. 2394, 180 L.Ed.2d 310,] the United States Supreme Court concluded that a child’s age may be considered in the Miranda analysis, ‘so long as the child’s age was known to the officer at the time of police questioning, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer.’ [Citation.] The court recognized that, ‘a reasonable child subjected to police questioning will sometimes feel pressured to submit when a reasonable adult would feel free to go.’ (Id. at p. 272, 131 S.Ct. 2394 [citation].) Although age may not be a significant factor in every case, the court observed, common sense dictates that ‘children cannot be viewed simply as miniature adults.’ (J.D.B., supra, at pp. 262 & 274, 131 S.Ct. 2394.) Accordingly, the court concluded that ‘a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis.’ (Id. at p. 265, 131 S.Ct. 2394.)” (I.F., supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at p. 760, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462.)

The Police Interrogation of Defendant Was Custodial

Review of the juvenile court’s ruling on this issue is  a mixed question of law and fact, and a  court reviews the  “factual findings regarding the circumstances surrounding the interrogation … for substantial evidence and we independently decide whether, given those circumstances, a reasonable person in [the] minor’s position would have felt free to end the questioning and leave. [Citation.] The prosecution bears the burden of proving that the defendant was not in custody in order to use his statements against him. [Citation.]” (I.F., supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at p. 760, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462.)

The police interrogation was custodial. Although not under arrest, the the interrogation was initiated by police, to question defendant as a suspect in the stabbing. (See I.F., supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at p. 759, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462; see also People v. Aguilera, supra, 51 Cal.App.4th at p. 1164, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 587, citing People v. Stansbury (1995) 9 Cal.4th 824, 832, 38 Cal.Rptr.2d 394, 889 P.2d 588 [fact that police did not view defendant as a suspect and officer told him “he desired to question him as a possible witness” were factors indicating noncustodial interrogation].) Five officers arrived at defendant’s home at 6:00 a.m., on the morning of the incident, while it was still dark outside. Although defendant’s mother consented to police questioning of defendant, defendant—who was in bed when the officers arrived—did not. (See Anthony L., supra, 43 Cal.App.5th at p. 446, 256 Cal.Rptr.3d 688 [“No one asked 15 year old if he wanted to speak with the police; rather, Mother brought the two officers into Minor’s bedroom as he was sleeping”]; I.F., supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at p.774, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462 [minor’s parents agreed to interview, but “no one appears to have asked [minor] whether he wanted to be interviewed”].) Instead, after being roused from his bed, defendant was patsearched for weapons before being directed to sit at his kitchen table.

At least two uniformed police officers and Keown—who wore a police vest—remained in the home throughout the interrogation. All of them were armed with guns. (See I.F., supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at p. 759, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462.)

Because defendant was a minor at the time of the interrogation, another factor to consider in determining whether he would feel free to terminate the encounter is his age. (See I.F., supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at p. 760, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462.) defendant’s age of 17 would certainly have intensified the effect of the factors just discussed in causing him to feel “pressured to submit” to the police interrogation.

Considering that defendant was still a minor, living at home with his mother, it is particularly significant that when his mother asked to be present for the questioning, the officer denied her request. (See United States v. Craighead (2008) 539 F.3d 1073, 1087 (Craighead) [“ ‘A frequently recurring example of police domination concerns the removal of the suspect from the presence of family, friends, or colleagues who might lend moral support during the questioning and deter a suspect from making inculpatory statements’ ”].)

The Miranda Violation Was Prejudicial

Having found that the juvenile court erred in admitting evidence of defendant’s pre-arrest statements to police, which were obtained in violation of Miranda, we now must review the error under the federal standard set forth in Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705, to determine “whether the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt—that is, whether it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that use of the statement did not contribute to the verdict. [Citation.] Under this test, the appropriate inquiry is ‘not whether, in a trial that occurred without the error, a guilty verdict would surely have been rendered, but whether the guilty verdict actually rendered in this trial was surely unattributable to the error.’ [Citation.]” (People v. Quartermain (1997) 16 Cal.4th 600, 621, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 609, 941 P.2d 788; see I.F., supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at p. 781, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462 [“ ‘To say that an error did not contribute to the verdict is … to find that error unimportant in relation to everything else the [trier of fact] considered on the issue in question’ ”].) The prosecution bears the burden of proving the error was harmless under Chapman. (I.F., at p. 781, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 462.) The Attorney General has not satisfied its burden of proving the error in this case was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Th pre-arrest statements impacted  court’s perceptions of defendant’s credibility is of particular concern because, looking at all of the relevant circumstances surrounding the stabbing incident, absent the evidence of defendant’s pre-arrest statements, the evidence presented would have been sufficient to support a finding that a reasonable person in defendant’s particular situation would believe in the need to protect Andrew and/or himself from imminent harm. (See CALCRIM No. 3470 [“When deciding whether the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, we consider all the circumstances as they were known to and appeared to the defendant and consider what a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have believed”]; accord, People v. Humphrey, supra, 13 Cal.4th at p. 1083, 56 Cal.Rptr.2d 142, 921 P.2d 1.)

The court reversed  the jurisdictional findings and dispositional order.


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