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Name: Stoot v. City of Everett
Case #: 07-35425
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/13/2009

The trial court’s granting of a motion for summary judgment is reversed because the minor made a colorable claim that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated, and because the responsible police officer is not entitled to qualified immunity. The 12-year-old minor was charged with child molestation based on the statements of a 4-year-old girl and his confession resulting from a 2-hour interrogation at school. The trial court dismissed the charges after it found that 1) the complainant was an incompetent witness because she had a history of hallucinations and panic attacks and had been referred to a mental health specialist; 2) the minor, who was developmentally delayed, lacked the capacity to understand and knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights; and 3) his statement to police was the product of coercion. The minor brought a suit alleging violation of his constitutional rights, but the court granted a motion for summary judgment. In this appeal, the court found the minor had alleged a valid Fourth Amendment claim because the information available to the investigating officer at the time he seized the minor for interrogation was not sufficiently reliable to establish probable cause. All the officer had was the uncorroborated statement of the four-year old, who not only changed her answers during the interview, even confusing the minor with another boy; but who was also purporting to recall events when she was three years old. Extreme caution should be taken to credit the detailed recollection of events supposedly occurring at such a young age. Even so, the court found the officer was entitled to qualified immunity because he personally interviewed the girl and found her to be credible. As to the Fifth Amendment claim, it too was valid. The court noted that in Chavez v. Martinez (2003) 538 U.S. 760, the high court held that coercive police questioning does not violate the Fifth Amendment absent the use of the statements in a criminal case. But in that case, the suspect was never actually charged, so the court did not decide the issue of what constitutes “use.” Recognizing a split among the circuits on the question whether “use in a criminal case” is synonymous with admission at trial, the Ninth Circuit sided with those holding it is not. Rather, a coerced statement has been “used” when it has be relied on to file charges, for a judicial determination holding the defendant to answer, or when it is used for pretrial custody status. The minor’s statements in this case were used against him under that definition. And as to this claim, the officer did not have qualified immunity because he was the one who provided the coerced confession to the prosecution. The matter was remanded for further proceedings on the Fifth Amendment claim.