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Name: In re I.F.
Case #: C080658
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 02/22/2018

Based on the totality of the circumstances, 12-year-old minor was in custody for purposes of Miranda during two pre-arrest interviews at district attorney’s office and juvenile court erred by admitting his statements. I.F., then 12 years old, was charged by a juvenile delinquency petition with the murder of his 8-year-old sister. Following a contested jurisdictional hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition. I.F. appealed, arguing that the court erroneously admitted his pre-arrest statements in violation of Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436 because the interviews constituted custodial interrogations and he was not given Miranda warnings. Held: Reversed. An officer is required to administer Miranda warnings only when a person is in custody. For purposes of Miranda, a person is in custody when there is a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest. The totality of the circumstances must be considered in determining whether a coercive atmosphere existed such that a reasonable person would have experienced a restraint tantamount to an arrest, and a child’s age should be considered. Here, the court concluded that two of four pre-arrest interviews were custodial because a reasonable 12-year-old would not have believed under the totality of the circumstances that he could decide for himself when the interview would end and that he was free to leave. Although the officers made vague comments about the doors being open, their questions “clearly manifested a belief that I.F. was culpable and they had evidence to prove it” and a reasonable 12-year-old would not have felt free to leave. The erroneous use of I.F.’s statements was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the juvenile court appeared to have viewed all of the evidence through the lens of I.F.’s inconsistent statements.

A parent’s conflict of interest should be factored into a court’s examination of the totality of the circumstances in determining how a reasonable child would perceive the interrogation, but the conflict itself should not lead to categorical exclusion of the minor’s statement. On appeal, I.F. also argued that his statements should be suppressed because his father, who was present during several interviews, was burdened by a conflict of interest that rendered him incapable of protecting I.F.’s legal interests. The presence of a parent may sometimes play a coercive rather than supportive role during custodial interrogations, and thus the parent’s conflict of interest should be considered as a factor bearing on how a reasonable child would perceive the interrogation. (Fare v. Michael C. (1979) 442 U.S. 707, 725.) Here, the court recognized that a parent who had lost a child, as I.F.’s father did, might be powerfully motivated to encourage cooperation with police where another parent might counsel silence. However, the court found no authority supporting an exclusionary rule for statements by minors with conflicted parents, even in the “inherently coercive” setting of custodial interrogations. In the absence of such authority, the court factored the father’s conflict of interest into its examination of the totality of the circumstances. The court ultimately concluded that a reasonable 12-year-old, having been brought to the district attorney’s office under protest and continuously urged to confess by a grieving parent, would have experienced a restraint tantamount to an arrest.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: