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Custodial Interrogation of a Minor at His Home?

Why This Article Matters: A police interview of a suspect can be inadmissible against him or her if violates Miranda, as the following case explains many factors that may be considered in determining whether the questioning was custodial in nature, meriting Miranda warnings.
On January 21, 2020, at approximately 12:30 or 1:00 a.m., Ralph C., age 57, was pushing his bike northbound on Main Street in Napa, California.  He was on his way to a Seven-Eleven store after having dinner with a friend who lived nearby when a young man, subsequently identified as Defendant Matthew W.’s friend, Andrew G., ran out from behind a fence and almost ran into him.
Ralph C., who thought Andrew G. might have been breaking into a car nearby, asked, “What are you doin?”  Andrew responded, “I live here,” and continued running across the street.

Ralph C. did not believe Andrew G. and therefore chased Andrew from about 100 yards behind with his flashlight on.
Ralph then noticed a Mustang automobile flashing its lights and he got on his bike to continue chasing Andrew G.  Ralph then caught up to Andrew and asked Andrew why he was running and what was going on. 

Ralph then heard someone from behind him yell, “Leave my friend alone.”  Ralph then turned around and saw Matthew W., who punched Ralph.  Matthew, age 17, then ran back to his Mustang and drove away.  Matthew was five feet, six inches tall and weighed 130 pounds.

Ralph then realized he had been stabbed in his left arm and his jacket was filling up with blood, which was starting to drip to the ground.  He later described the knife as about nine inches long with a wooden handle. 

art_1534_-_court_of_appeal__first_appellate_district__san_francisco_.jpgCourt of Appeal First Appellate District San Francisco

At trial, Ralph testified that he was an alcoholic and drank a fifth of vodka every day.  He had been drinking several hours before the incident and had drunk a few glasses of wine and had a couple shots of Jack Daniels a few hours before the incident.  He had also smoked one “hit” of marijuana and had taken methamphetamine the day before.  He was homeless and was living in a storage shed.

Ralph’s friend took him to the hospital and Ralph spoke to police there. 

At about 6:00 a.m., Napa Police Detective Brendt Keown went to Matthew W.’s house and spoke with him in his house.  Detective Keown was armed and did not read Matthew W. his Miranda rights.  Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436.  Matthew W. explained that his friend, Andrew G., who had just turned 18, left his house at about 1:00 a.m. and was chased by a “tweeker” (Ralph) on his bike.  Andrew called Matthew for help and Matthew came to his rescue, stabbing Ralph.

The Napa County District Attorney filed a juvenile wardship petition pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code § 602(a), alleging that Matthew W. had committed assault with a deadly weapon (Penal Code § 245(a)(1))) and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury (Penal Code § 245(a)(4)).

About a month later, after a contested hearing, the judge found true all the allegations in the petition and declared Matthew W. a ward of the court and placed him on probation with various terms and conditions, including an electronic search condition.

Matthew W. then filed an appeal to the First Appellate District, arguing that the juvenile court improperly admitted his pre-arrest statements to police, which were made during a custodial interrogation in violation of Miranda.

The First Appellate District agreed with Matthew W.  It explained that “custodial determinations are resolved by an objective standard: Would a reasonable person interpret the restraints used by the police as tantamount to a formal arrest?”  The totality of the circumstances must be considered as a whole.  Courts have identified a variety of circumstances to be considered as part of the custody determination.  Among them are:
  1. whether the contact with law enforcement was initiated by police;
  2. whether the person voluntarily agreed to an interview;
  3. whether the express purpose of the interview was to question the person as a witness or a suspect;
  4. where the interview took place;
  5. whether police informed the person that he or she was under arrest or in custody;
  6. whether police informed the person that he or she was free to terminate the interview at any time and leave at any time and/or whether the person ‘s conduct indicated an awareness of such freedom;
  7. how long the interview lasted;
  8. how many police officers participated, whether they dominated or controlled the course of the interrogation, whether they were aggressive or confrontational and/or accusatory;
  9. whether police used interrogation techniques to pressure the suspect; and
  10. whether the person was arrested at the end of the interrogation.
“No one factor is dispositive.”  In re L.F. (2018) 20 Cal. App. 5th 735, 759, quoting People v. Aguilera (1996) 51 Cal. App. 4th 1151, 1162.

Here, there was an armed police officer in Matthew W.’s house at 6:00 a.m.  Matthew W. was a suspect, not a witness, and the police had already interviewed Andrew G.

We present this article to identify ten factors judges consider in the Miranda analysis, as we hope this list can be used for other cases, possibly the reader’s.

The citation for the First Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is In re Matthew W. (1st App. Dist., 2021) 66 Cal. App. 5th 392, 281 Cal. Rptr. 3d 156.

For more information about when the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent or assert the right to an attorney (“Miranda rights”) attaches, please click on the following articles:
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