(CN) - Finding that police failed to properly Mirandize a 12-year-old boy accused of sexually abusing his 6-year-old cousin, the 9th Circuit reversed a conviction.
Prosecutors had argued that I.M.M., as he is named in the court record, was not in custody at the time the detective questioned him.
The court noted Monday, however, that juvenile did not agree to an interview with a detective, did not know it was voluntary, and did not understand his mother's role in agreeing to the voluntary meeting.
"The evidence shows only that, from I.M.M.'s vantage point, an armed detective arrived at his house one Saturday morning, drove him and his mother 30 to 40 minutes to a police station, and brought him to a small room where he remained for nearly an hour of questioning," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. "Although the officer did not menace I.M.M. or order him into the car, it is doubtful that a juvenile in I.M.M.'s position would have seen the circumstances of his arrival at the police station as the result of a free and voluntary choice to be questioned."
The detective fed I.M.M. a number of false statements, and exploited I.M.M.'s relationship with his grandfather, whom I.M.M. called "Dad," in forcing him to choose between the detective's accounts of events or calling his grandfather a liar, the court found.
"While the detective told I.M.M. at the outset of the interview that I.M.M. could stop it if he felt uncomfortable, the detective's aggressive, coercive, and deceptive interrogation tactics created an atmosphere in which no reasonable 12-year-old would have felt free to tell the detective, an adult making full use of his position of authority, to stop questioning him," Reinhardt wrote.
This factor alone is enough to reverse the conviction, the court noted, refusing to fault the admission into evidence of witness testimony given by the cousin's 7-year-old brother.
While the child's testimony "suggested many reasons to seriously doubt his understanding or recollection of the events in questions," the lower court judge properly found that those considerations affected the weight of his testimony, not his competence to testify, according to the ruling.
It was also reasonable for the court to find that I.M.M. penetrated the victim's anus based on the defendant's own inculpatory statements.
The juvenile had told the detective that he "put his 'weenie in [M.M.'s] butt' while she faced away from him, that she had her pants off at the time, that his zipper was down, and that he held her sides while she was sitting on him," the ruling states.
I.M.M. questioned whether the lower court had jurisdiction because the certification that the federal government filed was missing a page and did not include a statement of the government's substantial federal interest.
On this point Reinhardt said that requiring the government certify its federal interest applies only to "give the federal government power to retain jurisdiction even when a state was willing to assume jurisdiction in certain serious felony cases."