Thursday, April 19, 2012

KY COA March 30th -Bell- Statement by Juvenile in School

Commonwealth v. Bell; and T.C.
11-CA-562, Rendered March 30, 2012; To be published

The Commonwealth appealed a denial of a writ of prohibition seeking to overturn the suppression of a thirteen-year old boy’s statement in a first degree sodomy case in Fayette County District Court. The Court of Appeals affirmed the suppression, finding that even though the detectives did not deprive T.C. of sleep, food, had Mirandized T.C., and had used a calm conversational tone, these factors do not provide the same assurance of voluntariness in a thirteen year old as it does for an adult. 

The Court of Appeals focused on the fact that T.C. was interrogated at school, stating, “The fact is a school is where compliance with adult authority is required and where such compliance is compelled almost exclusively by the force of authority. Like it or not, that is the definition of coercion.”  The Court found that the Detective’s questioning in the school setting made it reasonable to believe that T.C. felt he had to say “something, whether true or not.” Further, it was unreasonable that T.C. would believe he had the right to say nothing and get up and leave the interrogation.

The Court noted, “T.C., alone, was ordered by school officials into a room, facing adult authority figures with considerable power, who also feigned superior knowledge (“I know what happened [and your cousin] has not lied to me about anything”), and who repeatedly demanded answers that he, if he was to be an obedient child, would have to provide.  How could T.C. not perceive such a situation as subjectively coercive?”

Note that the Court of Appeals did not cite the recent U.S. Supreme Court case J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 131 S.Ct. 2394 (2011), in making its decision.  The J.D.B. decision provides additional support for suppressing a juvenile’s statement when it is made in a school setting since it discusses the viewpoint of a child interrogated at school and requires consideration of a defendant’s age when determining if the child was in custody under Miranda.

Contributed by Robert Yang