Juvenile molestation finding reversed over faulty rights waiver

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a 12-year-old boy’s delinquency adjudication for what would be Level 4 felony child molestation, finding he lacked maturity to knowingly and voluntarily waive his rights and that evidence of a police interrogation should not have been admitted.

The case began when 12-year-old C.J.’s 11-year-old brother walked into a bedroom in the family’s Indianapolis home and found him with his 4-year-old sister’s pants down and C.J.’s face close to her rear end. Mother called a crisis hotline and took the children to the hospital.

A sexual assault assessment on the girl found no signs of trauma. Hospital staff called the Department of Child Services, and DCS called police.

The next day, mother took her children to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, where she met with Detective Eli McAllister, who “escorted C.J. to a room in the police station and left him alone for approximately fifty minutes. While waiting, C.J. sprawled on the floor, curled up into his shirt, drummed on the seat of a chair, sang, and played with his sock. Eventually, Mother and Detective McAllister entered the room, and Detective McAllister acknowledged that C.J. was ‘tired and sleepy.’ … He told C.J. that it was C.J.’s decision whether to talk with him. C.J. and Detective McAllister then proceeded to talk about C.J.’s school, hobbies, chores, and bikes,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel.

“After a few minutes of informal conversation, Detective McAllister redirected the conversation to C.J.’s interactions with (his sister) the night before by saying: ‘Hey man, I think you know why you’re here today.’” He then reviewed a waiver of rights form with the child and his mother, who ultimately signed the form, which led to McAllister’s interrogation of C.J.

“C.J. talked about cars, his difficulties spelling and reading, and fights with other children at his school. Over the course of the interrogation, Detective McAllister accused C.J. of lying and stated that he knew what really happened. C.J. eventually admitted touching and licking A.T.’s rear end. C.J. also acknowledged he might have touched her vagina,” May wrote. He was thus charged with acts that would constitute Level 3 felony and Level 4 felony child molesting if committed by an adult.

At a hearing, C.J.’s mother testified the detective “convinced” her that it would be best to let C.J. talk to him alone, a decision she regretted. The juvenile court dismissed the Level 3 felony but entered a true finding on the Level 4 felony, placing C.J. on probation and ordering placement at a behavior health services provider.

But the COA reversed in C.J. v. State of Indiana, 19A-JV-255. It found C.J.’s “waiver of his rights was (not) knowing, intelligent, and voluntary because of his demonstrated lack of maturity, the fact that he was not advised of the crime and possible consequences, and his minimal consultation with Mother. Therefore, we hold the trial court erred in admitting as evidence the videotape of C.J.’s interrogation and Detective McAllister’s testimony regarding C.J.’s statements during the interrogation.

“… Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence the information gathered during that interrogation, and we reverse C.J.’s adjudication as a delinquent because the record contains no evidence to support it,” the panel concluded.

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