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Ind. Code section 31-32-5-1(2) (1998) provides that the state and federal constitutional rights of an unemancipated person under 18 years of age may be waived only by the child's custodial parent, guardian, custodian, or guardian ad litem if: (A) that person knowingly and voluntarily waives the right; (B) that person has no interest adverse to the child; (C) meaningful consultation has occurred between that person and the child; and (D) the child knowingly and voluntarily joins with the waiver.
Defendant Alfred Stewart and an accomplice, both aged 17, robbed the victim, who died as a result of injuries incurred. When defendant was questioned, the police attempted to contact his mother, and then located defendant's father. The father, upon arriving at the station, told the police officer that he was defendant’s biological father, but that defendant did not live with him. The police officer provided defendant and his father with a copy of a “juvenile form” that, in essence, contained the basic Miranda warnings as well as the statements, "You have the right to have one or both parents present," and, "The juvenile and his parents are entitled to a conference." Subsequently, defendant and his father signed the waiver of rights at the bottom of the form and the police officer audiotaped defendant’s confession. Defendant was charged with felony murder and robbery as a Class A felony. A jury found him guilty on both counts. The trial court vacated the robbery conviction, and sentenced defendant to fifty-five years imprisonment for felony murder. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court should have suppressed his confession to the police because it was taken in violation of Ind. Code § 31-32-5-1.
Should the defendant’s confession have been suppressed for being taken in violation of Ind. Code § 31-32-5-1?
The court noted that Ind. Code § 31-32-5-1 provided that the rights of a juvenile could be waived only with participation of a custodial parent. The appellate court held the statute contemplated consultation and waiver by a person in the close relationship afforded by either formal custody or actual residence, in addition to a biological or adoptive relationship. Defendant's father met neither test. The appellate court held the error in admitting the testimony was not harmless, as but for defendant's confession, the State presented no evidence directly placing defendant at the scene of the murder. The jury had defendant, on tape, admitting his guilt. The appellate court held the probable impact of the confession on the jury, in light of the other evidence, was not sufficiently minor so as not to affect defendant's substantial rights. Accordingly, defendant’s conviction was reversed and remanded for new trial.