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Appeals Court Rules the Reasonable Juvenile Standard Applies in Determining Whether Defendant was Subjected to Functional Equivalent of Custodial Interrogation

questions-1308019-267x300In a recent decision – Commonwealth v. Quinones – the Appeals Court concluded that the trial court judge properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress his statements to the police.  The Appeals Court specifically ruled (1) “that, for Miranda purposes, a juvenile’s age must be considered in determining whether the juvenile was subjected to the functional equivalent of police questioning”; and (2) “that the police officer’s advice to the defendant [in this case] would not be perceived as interrogation by a reasonable juvenile of the defendant’s age in the same circumstances.”

The background was as follows. “[T]he victim was shot in the leg while walking down the driveway of his friend’s house…. He did not see the shooter…. Surveillance video footage … from a nearby convenience store revealed an individual, whom the jury could have identified as the defendant, riding [a] bicycle…. That individual, wearing a black shirt, gray shorts, white socks, and black shoes, rode out of the video frame,” then reappeared two minutes later, “biking in the opposite direction…. He rode his bicycle across the street, in the direction of the driveway where the victim was shot.” After the shooting, the police arrived at the scene promptly and “began searching the surrounding area…. [They] found the defendant, who was sixteen years old at the time and therefore a juvenile, and another male inside a vehicle…. The defendant was lying down ‘in the backseat of the car, kind of crunched down.’ He was wearing gray shorts underneath blue jeans, a black shirt, and black shoes. A bicycle was on the ground near the vehicle…. After an officer confirmed with the owner of the vehicle that the defendant and the other male were not authorized to be in it, police arrested both of them and brought them to the … police station for booking.” The defendant was not informed of his Miranda rights. “After spending [an] hour at the police station …, the defendant was transported to an alternative lockup….  [He] asked the transporting officer why he was being locked up. The officer answered and gave the defendant advice about ‘the negative things that the streets bring to people.’ The officer advised the defendant to ‘clean up his act,’ as otherwise ‘he’s going to wind up in serious trouble.’ The defendant said ‘something [like] people are going to feel sorry when he comes out, relating t[hat] he had been proving himself.’ The officer then advised the defendant ‘to just get out completely. There’s nothing positive about the life path that he had chosen.’” After the return of indictments against the defendant, he moved to suppress his statements to the transport officer. The motion was denied. “[T]he motion judge found that the defendant’s statements were not made in response to interrogation or the functional equivalent of interrogation. At trial, the … statements … were admitted in evidence” and the defendant was adjudicated a youthful offender. On appeal, he challenged the denial of his motion to suppress.

In its decision, the Appeals Court addressed the question whether the conversation between the transport officer and the defendant was the functional equivalent of custodial interrogation. The Court “examine[d] whether to consider how the police statements would be perceived by a reasonable person in the abstract or by a reasonable juvenile of the defendant’s age. The Court concluded that the “reasonable juvenile” standard was appropriate in light of J.D.B.v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261, 277 (2011), which “held that a child’s age must be considered as a factor in determining whether the child was in custody for Miranda purposes…. Just as ‘children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave,’ children will likely perceive the questions, statements, or conduct of the police differently from how adults would. J.D.B.[] at 264-265.” Here, stated the Appeals Court, “the officer was lecturing the defendant about ‘the negative things that the streets bring to people….’ It is unlikely that the officer would have offered the same advice to an adult…. It would be artificial to evaluate the circumstances of this case through the eyes of a reasonable adult, when the officer’s guidance was premised upon the fact that the defendant was a juvenile.” “Applying that standard, we discern no ground for disturbing the motion judge’s conclusion [in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress] that the officer’s statements were not the functional equivalent of interrogation…. [E]ven taking into account the defendant’s age, we cannot say that a reasonable sixteen year old in the same circumstances as the defendant would perceive the officer’s statements to be interrogation…. ‘[T]here was nothing here in the nature of an accusatory inquiry or a demand for explanation.’ [Commonwealthv.] Martin, 467 Mass. [291,] 309 [2014].”

If you or a loved one is a juvenile involved in the criminal justice system, it is extremely important that you are represented by a lawyer who understands and appreciates the many procedural and legal differences between representing juveniles and representing adults in the criminal justice system.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta has represented many juvenile defendants and does everything in his power to make sure that they are protected to the fullest extent possible under the law. Put his expertise to work for you or your child.

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