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Name: In re Matthew W.
Case #: A159931
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 07/08/2021

Juvenile court erred in admitting pre-arrest statements under Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 326, where police created a coercive atmosphere in minor’s home such that a reasonable 17-year-old would have experienced a restraint tantamount to arrest. Following the stabbing of a person around midnight, five armed and uniformed police arrived at 17-year-old minor’s home at around 6:00 a.m. Three officers entered the home with the mother’s permission, but denied her request to be present during questioning. No Miranda advisements were given. The juvenile court sustained the allegation that minor committed assault with a deadly weapon and personally inflicted great bodily injury. He appealed, arguing that pre-arrest statements to the police were improperly admitted in violation of Miranda. Held: Reversed. In juvenile cases, custody determinations for purposes of Miranda are resolved by an objective standard with additional consideration given to a minor’s age, so long as the age was known to the officer at the time of questioning or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer. Here, the totality of the circumstances showed the interrogation was custodial: it was initiated by the police with the purpose of investigating minor as a suspect; evidence showed the interrogating officer was exerting pressure on the minor; the interrogation occurred while it was still dark after “rousing” minor from bed; minor did not consent to questioning; a pat down search of minor occurred; at least two armed and uniformed officers were present, standing at the front door and behind minor, all of which suggested he was not free to leave the kitchen or the house itself. Although minor was told he was not under arrest, he was not told he was free to leave or terminate the interrogation. Further, minor’s age (17) would have intensified the effect of these factors in causing him to feel pressured to submit to the interrogation, particularly where his mother was not permitted to be present and he was arrested at the conclusion of the interrogation. [Editor’s Notes: (1) In a footnote, the court observed that despite the Attorney General’s characterization of the police questioning as an “interview” or “conversation,” an interrogation occurred because it stemmed from an investigation of the stabbing, which included a witness implicating minor. (2) Because the recording of the interrogation was not made part of the record on appeal, the Court of Appeal assumed the officer’s tone of voice during questioning was calm and professional and that the interrogation was not particularly lengthy.]

The Miranda violation was prejudicial. Violations ofMiranda are reviewed under the federal standard set forth in Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24, to determine whether the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, the juvenile court heard “a great deal of testimony focused on minor’s lack of credibility,” including cross-examination of minor and the interrogating officer, and the prosecutor relied on the statements in his closing argument and rebuttal, reading portions of the transcript. The prosecutor also referred to the pre-arrest statements to argue minor had lied to police and on the witness stand. Further, the juvenile court’s comments show that it relied in large part on minor’s pre-arrest statements when determining that his claims of self-defense and defense of another were not credible. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the Attorney General’s argument that any error was harmless because the statements would have been admissible to impeach the minor’s hearing testimony as inconsistent with prior statements. The record does not reflect whether minor would have testified if the pre-arrest statements were excluded or whether the statements would have been admitted for impeachment purposes. In the absence of the inconsistencies and lies in the pre-arrest statements, the remaining testimony supports both a finding that minor acted in lawful self-defense or defense of another and a finding that he did not. Because the court’s true findings were not surely unattributable to the admission of the pre-arrest statements, the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.