One Murder Charge Dismissed Against 8 Year Old

On Thursday, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the murder conviction of an Arizona man who confessed his guilt to the police when he was 17 after being interrogated for twelve hours in the absence of an attorney or parent. Considering the coercive nature of the persistent questioning and the boy's age, the court decided (pdf) the confession was involuntary and should not have been used as evidence. The decision represents a victory for the Constitution as well as his appellate lawyer, Alan Dershowitz.

The principle that the police cannot induce a confession by using coercive tactics to overcome a suspect's free will is particularly significant when the suspect is a juvenile. Children are easily influenced and therefore need greater protection to assure they make a voluntary choice to respond to police questioning. What, then, were the police in Apache County, Arizona thinking when they interrogated an 8 year old about the shooting of his father without arranging the presence of an attorney or adult relative to protect the child's rights?

That blunder may explain a prosecutor's decision to dismiss one of the murder charges he had filed against the 8 year old. A second charge is still pending. [more ...]

At this point the 8 year old is in juvenile court, but prosecutors have announced their intent to seek the prosecution's transfer to adult court. What is it about "8 year old" that screams "adult" to the prosecutors?

The 8 year old wasn't subjected to the 12 hour interrogation session that the 17 year old endured in the Ninth Circuit case, but even an hour long interrogation should be viewed as unreasonably coercive in the case of an 8 year old. How could this kid possibly have understood that he had a choice, that he didn't have to talk to the team of police detectives who were questioning him? The detectives didn't bother to tell him that.

The police respond that they considered the 8 year old to be a victim, not a suspect. Nonsense. If they viewed him as a victim they would have delivered him straight to a social worker who would have arranged for trauma counseling. If they thought he was a victim they wouldn't have rejected the first story he provided. They wouldn't have talked to him about the importance of telling the truth if they believed he was truthfully a victim.

Whatever happens in the case from this point, prosecutors should drop the idea of treating this child as an adult. The police did that and their actions will probably result in his confession being suppressed. It's time for Apache County to understand that an 8 year old isn't an adult and shouldn't be treated as one.

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    Yo. What's wrong with this picture? Cripes. (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by No Blood for Hubris on Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 12:38:08 AM EST
    I'm approaching this from a psychotherapist's point of view (specializing in trauma, and not a social worker), and my understanding is that children cannot give consent  because they are children..  Because they are immature they  cannot be expected to understand the viewpoints you mentioned.

    Consent must come from an adult -- a parent or  guardian adult or from the state if it holds custody.

    In my state, when children undergo forensic interviews (such as in cases of possible child sexual abuse) it is normal to ask about the child's understanding of what is telling the truth and what is not.  But of course a parent or other guardian must give permission before such an interview can take place.

    How can anything this child said be admissable?

    Not to mention (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 12:49:23 AM EST
    publicly releasing the interrogation video of a confused and agitated 8-year-old.

    The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach.

    The spectacle of some fat grown-up prosecutor looking down at this tiny kid and announcing he should be tried as an adult is just sickening.

    Children not only can't give consent, at that age they aren't even capable of forming an "intent to kill."  The concept doesn't even compute in any realistic way that young.

    I wasn't much younger than this kid when I whacked my sister over the head with my "six-shooter" because I wanted something she had.  After all, that's what the Lone Ranger did when people got in his way, and they suffered no ill effects, they just lay down quickly and stopped getting in the way.  Shock of my entire life when my sister screamed and even bled a bit instead of lying down quietly.

    Kids don't think the same way grown-ups do, and it's insane to treat them as if they do.


    One bright ray (none / 0) (#3)
    by Amiss on Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 12:56:35 AM EST
    He is supposed to be released to his Mother's custody for 48 hrs. for Thanksgiving.

    i wondered about that when i first (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by cpinva on Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 01:20:36 AM EST
    heard about this. nowhere was it mentioned that the police arranged for an advocate to be present while questioning him. never mind miranda warnings, an 8 year-old hasn't a clue. heck, a good many adults don't either.

    if the state decides to waste scarce, allocable resources trying this child, in any court, and assuming (hey, there are stupid judges) that any part of the interview is allowed into evidence, that would seem to be an almost automatic ground for appeal.

    the police screwed this up from the start. i expect the prosecutor is desperately looking for any way to salvage something constructive from it. the child obviously needs help. that would be the most positive outcome in this case.

    Even if our progressives (none / 0) (#5)
    by JamesTX on Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 08:26:00 AM EST
    still buy into tuff at most levels, the place we can most likely begin to reason with them is on the abuse of children's rights. If they'll do it to kids, then they'll certainly do it to adults.

    Frickin' crazy (none / 0) (#6)
    by Lora on Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 05:54:38 PM EST
    Putting an 8-year-old on trial for murder is not one of the more intelligent ways to deal with the situation, to put it mildly.

    If the blunder is enough to dismiss.... (none / 0) (#7)
    by jiminportlandoregon on Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 10:01:32 PM EST
    one charge of murder, it should be enough to dismiss them both. This case stinks to high heaven - can't wait to read the real details. I think there is much we are not being told at this point.