Five groups of four participant-jurors each viewed a videotape of a trial in which a 14 year old high school boy was convicted of robbery with violence based on evidence coercively obtained from him in a non procedural manner. Before any discussions were made about the case, each participant-juror presented a recommendation sentence for the defendant. By the end of the conclusive discussions, each participant-juror again made a recommendation sentence on the same. Prior to the discussions, there was a general agreement that the environment under which the prosecutor’s evidence was collected was not conducive for a proper attainment of objective facts as the suspect was not free to leave under the circumstances of the interrogations. By the end of the discussions, the 14 year old boy was given a sentence equivalent to that of an adult (over 18 years). These results therefore invoke our argument that in respect of Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652 (2004), this Court should hold that the state court did not “unreasonably apply ... clearly established Federal law” by neglecting to consider Alvarado’s age explicitly in its Miranda custody analysis.
Effects of Age and Experience of the Suspect and Jury Discussion on Length of Questioning
Child Protection deals with lenience to suspects in regards to their age and experience. It puts forward the idea that the age of a person is an objective fact that, when known by the interrogating officer, is a circumstance of the interrogation that a court may properly consider in a Miranda custody analysis (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1996). In Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652 (2004), this Court held that the state court did not “unreasonably apply . . . clearly established Federal law” by neglecting to consider Alvarado’s age explicitly in its Miranda custody analysis. In so holding, the Court expressly left open the question whether a court may consider age and, if so, under what circumstances. But these extra-judicial factors are equally important in any judicial system that seeks to uphold fairly the rule of law. For a case where the investigating police went to the kid’s school, plucked them out of the classroom without either the consent of the guardians or the school administration and interrogated them in a closed room falls far short of the standards. In other words, permitting a court to consider age when known, as part of the Miranda custody test does not convert the analysis into a subjective test and this should have been reflected on the ruling if indeed there were group discussions.
A total of 20 students (10 male and 10 female) working on their Masters theses participated in this study for course credits. They were sufficiently ethnically and religiously diverse of ages ranging from 24 to 26.
We prepared a questionnaire in a three-page booklet, containing a cover page titled “Effects of Age” and the second and third pages labeled “Child Protection”. On this were listed numberings from 1 to 30. A round plastic table with four chairs and a medium size screen (0.8 x 0.8 m) were placed strategically in the experimental room for viewing the clip of the trial scene. The two clip versions of the trial (each 12-min long) were same except for the quality of the capturing cameras. They both showed a little boy who could not by any chance be mistaken for an adult. For once, his attire was typical of a high school teenager who is still tied up in his childhood fashions.
Four participants were selected at random and assigned to each jury group, with a special emphasis that there must be two males and two females in each jury group. Two of the five groups were assigned to view the low quality clip and the other two assigned to view the high quality clip. This assigning was done at random for both cases. Once in the experimental room, the four participants seated themselves at the table under the instructions of one of the female participants. She made it known to each of them that they would be required to recommend a sentence for the defendant after watching a clip of the trial scene. Soon after the presentation and a short moment of relaxation, the questionnaire booklet was availed to each participant. The experimenter directed them to indicate on the numbers 1 to 30 the kind of sentence they would deem appropriate for the defendant. They were also as much time as deemed sufficient, but on strict instructions not to communicate to one another. The questionnaires were then collected and the participants asked to discuss the case as though they were a real jury. They were then to notify the experimenter when they felt as a group that they had satisfactorily discussed the case. Once the experimenter was notified, she handed all participant-jurors a different copy of the booklet. For the second time, she asked them to fill it in individually after considering all aspects of the case brought out from the discussions of the group. The experimenter became more specific and told participants not to feel tied by the findings they gave previously before they were assigned into groups. At the end of it all, the participants were thanked for their contributions and warned against sharing that information with anyone outside the study. They were also informed that they could confirm with the experimenter in two weeks time if they could obtain a detailed explanation of the research project.
A preliminary analysis of the sentences given by different sexes indicated a result showing male (M = 6.40, SD = 1.10) versus female (M = 6.05, SD = 1.15) participant-jurors gave an insignificant difference, t (18) = 1.54, p > .4. Therefore, the gender variable was excluded in the main analysis. Sentence recommendations for a shorter sentence for the defendant (M = 7.35, SD = 1.17) were longer than for a longer sentence for defendant (M = 4.01, SD = 1.32). There was also an element of difference for the sentence proposals before and after the group discussions, with the latter almost unanimously settling on a much shorter average length of sentence. These were probably informed by the various arguments of the other participants bringing into perspective the principle of Child Protection.
The finding that most participants preferred a longer sentence for the defendant before discussions as compared to after discussions supported the experimental hypothesis that group discussion of the case would tend to respect the principle of Child Protection. In fact, it would be appropriate that in the Court’s determination of the matter, it should have properly considered the question of whether the defendant would have felt sufficiently at liberty to walk out of the questioning. While acknowledging that age may or may not be of significance, the noble court should have considered the objective exercise of applying a reasonable person standard that necessitates an evaluation of “all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation,” Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322 (1994) (per curiam) (emphasis added), in order for the court to “determine what it would have been like for a reasonable man to be in the suspect’s shoes,” Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 119 (1995) (Thomas, J., dissenting) . This is in respect of the fact that this Court has previously considered certain factors like length and location of interrogations as being relevant to the voluntariness inquiry that looks into the suspect’s state of mind and the custody analysis that is based upon a reasonable person standard. A perfect example is the Gallegos v. Colorado, 370 U.S. 49, 52-53, 54, 55 (1962) (noting relevance of the length of questioning in voluntariness analysis); In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 53, 54 (1967) (in context of voluntariness analysis, noting instances where interviewee was “placed in the police station” and where statements were “made at police headquarters”); Alvarado, 541 U.S. at 664-65 (noting as relevant factors in custody test that questioning took place “at the police station” and that the interview lasted two hours, four times longer than the 30-minute interview in Mathiason”); and in Mathiason v. Oregon, 429 U.S. 492, 495-96 (1977) (location of interrogation is relevant to custody test, albeit not dispositive); id. at 495 (noting as relevant to custody test the fact that interview lasted half an hour). The participants agreed that these were such weighty precedents that should not have been ignored by the court.
Participants, after thorough perusal of the rule that allows but does not require a juvenile’s age to be considered when applying the Miranda custody test conceded that it would not convert this objective test into a subjective one. This is in reference to Alvarado, 541 U.S. at 667-68 that in order to be relevant to the “custody” analysis, a factor under consideration must be an “objective fact,” not a “subjective experience” that “depend[s] on the actual mindset of a particular suspect.” The case beforehand perfectly fits this description as the police officers went for the defendant in school, fully knowing that their age may not permit them to be described as adults. Indeed, the same court accepts in Alvarado at 674 (Breyer, J., dissenting) that age is instead an objective fact that provides relevant information about “the suspect’s position” and how a reasonable person in the position of the person being questioned “would have understood his situation.” In view of the fact that the age and idiosyncrasies (SeeBerkemer, 468 U.S. at 442 n .35) of the defendant were well known to the police officers, age should have been no different and no less “objective” than the analysis for any other factor or circumstance this Court has considered under the Miranda custody test (Greenberg & Shuman, 2007).
The relationship of the police and the defendant in the events leading to the extraction of information from the defendant also caused the participants to think otherwise. The question as to whether the interrogation was custodial or whether the statements made were voluntary is quite pivotal. Under ideal situations, a “stationhouse” interview takes a coercive tone rather than an interrogative one as it happens in public or in the suspect’s home. In respect of Greenberg & Shuman 2007, age may have had a greater or lesser impact on a particular individual, and as a matter of fact provided an objective and workable test for how a “reasonable person” would assess the situation from the position of the person being questioned. The fact that the questioning was done behind closed doors, for instance, is a relevant and objective factor. For instance, in Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 438 (emphasizing the relevance of questioning being “expos[ed] to public view”), the sense of the matter indicates that a closed door interview would have made many feel less “at liberty to go” than a door that is open or investigations done in public, atypical of a traffic offence case. Further to this, in Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 325 (stating that an officer’s belief that the person being interrogated is a suspect is “relevant only to the extent it would affect how a reasonable person in the position of the individual being questioned would gauge the breadth of his or her freedom of action”. Any condition less than this would seriously cast doubts on the value of the statements and should never be relied upon in determining the case (Barnum, 1997).
A unanimous finding as to the participation of the defendants parents was also clearly pointed out by the groups. According to Alvarado, 541 U.S. at 665 (“Counsel for Alvarado alleges that Alvarado’s parents were asked to be present at the interview but were subsequently rebuffed, a fact that—if known to Alvarado—might reasonably have led someone in Alvarado’s position to feel more restricted than otherwise.” (emphasis added); and also in respect of Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 324-25; Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 347 (1976) (finding irrelevant for purposes of the Miranda custody test that police knew prior to the start of the interview that the suspect was the “focus” of the investigation, whereas this fact was not disclosed to the suspect or to the parents). (Condie, 2003)
Collectively, the findings point to the significance of the court in its “ultimate determination” of the custody test considering a requirement to “consider all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation,” Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 322 (emphasis added), and then put itself “in the suspect’s shoes” in order “to determine what it would have been like for a reasonable man to be in the suspect’s shoes.” Thompson, 516 U.S. at 119 (Thomas, J., dissenting); see also Alvarado, 541 U.S. at 662 (“Custody must be determined based on how a reasonable person in the suspect’s situation would perceive his circumstances.”). Within this objective, the Court should have considered, among other factors, whether the interrogation was conducted in private or in public, whether individuals other than law enforcement officers and the suspect were present, and whether the questioning occurred behind a closed and/or locked door.
It is my opinion that if the American Supreme court was to be asked to make a decision on custodial questioning, they would have the same conclusion as in Alvarado’s case. According to the Miranda situation, one needed to be in custody for his age to be considered. However the 17 year old Alvarado was not yet in custody. The decision that ought to be made should be age reliant but references from these earlier cases would determine otherwise. The jury would have its hands tied to decide harshly against a minor given a similar situation.
The school environment appears to be coercive to the extent that the victim, who would be a student like Alvarado will have to stick by the ethics and conducts taught by teachers. The presence of administrators would further force him to admit some activities he may have not done. Every student likes to appear sincere and good to the teacher. And the fear of punishment and being in bad records with the administration would make any student not be free to answer subjectively.
The process of questioning in the school environment would not be the same as in the police station. The student will not be having legal advice from a lawyer. This can make the student answer questions that would incriminate him unfairly. The natural fear that students have to the police will also take its toll. Therefore in the school environment the student need to be questioned freely. If possible, the questioning should be done through a questionnaire administered by one of his teachers. This will create a free environment for interaction and friendliness; hence the responses would be more truthful. Moreover, the questioning of a student should not be as grueling as of an adult. We are told that the minor –Alvarado was questioned for two continuous hours. One who is grown up and aware of more rights would take breaks and even demand to leave at certain levels of intensity. It is obvious that an adult has more knowledge of common rights than a juvenile, e.g. the right to remain silent. For a child these may not be used (Reiss, 1991).
Therefore, the courts possible decision in a similar case would be to incriminate the young lad just the same way an adult would be sentenced. May be unfair but the court will not be able to confirm if the confessions made during custodial questioning were willingly or coerced. They cannot also use the Miranda basis if the underage was not in custody.