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Justices uphold admitting juvenile's confession

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The Indiana Supreme Court has found that a juvenile court didn’t err in admitting a teen’s confession, finding the boy was given the opportunity for meaningful consultation with his mother and that he knowingly waived his rights. The justices did also emphasize that the waiver used should be altered to make it more clear.

D.M. was arrested for breaking into a neighbor’s home. D.M. was in custody in a police car in front of the home for about two hours before his mother got there. She said police told her that she couldn’t speak to her 13-year-old son until she signed a waiver form. She also claimed it was a hostile environment as firefighters on the scene were glaring at her because the neighbor worked as a firefighter.

A police detective took the mother and son to his car and told them D.M.’s rights, reading from a “juvenile waiver” form. D.M. and the mother signed the top part of the form, and then had a few minutes alone in the back of the detective’s car to talk. The detective came back and asked if they were done talking. The mother said yes, so the detective read them the waiver-of-rights section at the bottom of the waiver form and they signed it. D.M. then confessed in detail.

D.M. objected to the admission of his confession at the fact finding hearing alleging he committed what would be burglary and theft if committed by an adult. The juvenile court found the allegations in the petition to be true. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the decision 2-1 in a not-for-publication opinion.

The justices agreed in D.M. v. State, No. 49S02-1101-JV-11, that the confession was admissible. They found based on the record that the actual procedure utilized was sufficient to remedy any prior ambiguity and that D.M.’s rights weren’t waived after he was given a chance to speak to his mother. D.M. and his mother were alone in the car and no one could hear their conversation. The detective didn’t begin the interrogation until the mother and son had signed the waiver.

They found the atmosphere wasn’t intimidating for meaningful conversation, as the mother and D.M. had argued. The justices also agreed that D.M. had knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his rights. They affirmed the finding that D.M. was a delinquent child for committing what would be felonies if committed by an adult.

The Supreme Court also discussed clarifying the wavier form used in this case so that it would give clearer guidance. The form says “My parents and/or legal guardian and I have been allowed time by ourselves without the presence of a police officer to discuss the waiver of my rights before signing the waiver of rights.” Justice Frank Sullivan suggested it would be better to change the tense to say “… and I will be allowed time by ourselves …” They also believed the style and presentation of the form was deficient and suggested changing the title from “JUVENILE WAIVER” to “Juvenile and Parent (or Guardian) Advisement & Waiver of Rights.” The form could also more clearly indicate the parent’s role in waiving the juvenile’s rights.

Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result.

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