Law School Case Brief
People v. Lessie - 47 Cal. 4th 1152, 104 Cal. Rptr. 3d 131, 223 P.3d 3 (2010)
Supreme Court of the United States case law requires courts to determine whether a defendant—minor or adult—has waived the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by inquiring into the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation.
A victim died in a street confrontation on June 9, 2005. Police, acting on information identifying defendant T.L. as the shooter, arrested him at 6:40 a.m. on Sept. 20, 2005, at the home of his aunt and uncle as he attempted to escape through the rear window. Although T.L. formally resided with his father, his father had reported him missing some months earlier. T.L. admitted his role in the shooting during a custodial interrogation at a police station and again during a subsequent interrogation at juvenile hall. T.L. claimed that he was forced to shoot the victim as part of a gang initiation. T.L., who was then 16 years old, was tried as an adult in California state court and was convicted of second-degree murder. T.L. appealed, claiming the trial court prejudicially erred by admitting into evidence confessions he made during two custodial interrogations.
Did the trial court err by not treating T.L.'s request during interrogation to speak with his father as an invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination?
The state supreme court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court ruled that the presumptive rule that a minor invoked the privilege against self-incrimination by asking for a parent was not a valid interpretation of federal law following a decision from the Supreme Court of the United States requiring a totality-of-the-circumstances test. In the instant case, the totality of the circumstances supported a conclusion that T.L. waived his rights. There was no basis for construing his request to speak with his father as an invocation. Nothing in the record suggested that T.L. was unable to understand, or did not understand, the meaning of the rights to remain silent and to have the assistance of counsel, and the consequences of waiving those rights. The court observed that T.L. was, at the time of his interrogation, 16 years old and, and while no longer in school, had completed the 10th grade and had held jobs in retail stores.
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