COA: admitting teen's confession was a fundamental error

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An Indiana Court of Appeals decision today places a burden on police officers to make sure interview room video cameras don’t infringe upon meaningful consultation when a juvenile is involved.

The appellate court reversed a teen’s adjudication for committing what would be felony child molesting because he wasn’t given meaningful consultation with his guardian as required by Indiana’s juvenile waiver of rights statute. They found the video cameras that recorded the consultation between the two was an improper police presence and infringed on privacy necessary to any meaningful consultation.

S.D. was accused of molesting one of the children his guardian watched in her home daycare. He went with his guardian to the police to speak with Detective Chris Lawrence. He and his guardian were initially alone in the small interview room and noted the cameras in it. S.D. told the detective he didn’t care if his guardian was present during questioning, so she left. Detective Lawrence told S.D. he wasn’t under arrest and was free to go at any time. He questioned S.D. about the incident, said he didn’t think S.D. was telling the truth, and sat close to S.D. and spoke to him in a low voice near the end of the interview.

S.D. changed his story several times, eventually confessing to molesting the girl. He was then put in handcuffs. At his hearing, S.D. moved to suppress his videotaped statement. S.D. was found to have committed Class C felony child molesting if committed by an adult.

In S.D. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1004-JV-442, the appellate court addressed the admission of the confession as to whether it constituted a fundamental error. S.D. claimed he wasn’t afforded meaningful consultation as required by Indiana’s juvenile waiver of rights statute because the consultation was videotaped. The issue was whether he was subject to a custodial interrogation when he confessed. The judges agreed that Detective Lawrence interrogated him and found the evidence supported a reasonable person in similar circumstances wouldn’t believe he was free to leave, so S.D. was in custody when he confessed. Because of this, the juvenile waiver statute applies and he was entitled to meaningful consultation with his guardian, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

“Consultation can be meaningful only in the absence of police pressure,” she wrote. “Privacy is essential to a meaningful consultation. The meaningful consultation requirement is met only when the State demonstrates actual consultation of a meaningful nature or the express opportunity for such consultation, which is then forsaken by the juvenile in the presence of the proper authority, so long as the juvenile knowingly and voluntarily waives his constitutional rights.”

S.D. and his guardian were videotaped during their consultation and they were aware of the video cameras. This constituted an improper police presence and infringed on the privacy necessary to any meaningful consultation. The burden is on the state to demonstrate that S.D. and his guardian were afforded meaningful consultation; the burden isn’t on the juvenile to ask for it, she continued.

“We acknowledge that our decision places a burden on police officers to ensure that interview room video cameras do not infringe upon meaningful consultation when a juvenile is involved. However, in light of the purpose of the meaningful consultation requirement – to provide a juvenile with a ‘stabilizing and comparatively relaxed atmosphere in which to make a serious decision that could affect the rest of his life’ – we cannot say that such a burden is too onerous,” wrote Judge Vaidik.


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