You may already know that juvenile offenders are treated differently than adults, even when they have committed the same crime. You may not be aware, however, that a Second District Court of Appeal recently overturned the murder conviction (CA Penal Code 187) of a 13-year-old boy because, as it turns out, when he asked investigators in the case, “Could I have an attorney? Because that’s not me,” they didn’t take that as a request for an attorney.
This is one instance in which the spirit of the law was ignored and the letter of the law might have been used for the sole benefit of the prosecutors’ interpretation of the letter of the law. This is an important decision; the boy has already been tried and convicted of 3 separate murders, all of which he confessed to after having been denied legal representation. Judge Gail Feuer and 2 other Superior Court justices determined that the confession must now be thrown out, as the police officers involved with the questioning of the boy ignored his request for a lawyer.
If you’re wondering what the legal precedent for this is, it’s the United States Supreme Court ruling that officers of the law repeat a phrase from each time they arrest someone, it’s the 1966 Miranda ruling and it is meant to inform anyone who is taken in by police of their rights as a citizen. Clearly this boy’s rights were not given due respect and this recent court decision seems to agree with this perspective. Whether he was an adult or not is beside the point. It is possible, no likely, that prosecutors will, at this point, simply re-try the case and attempt to gather more evidence against the youth, including finding avenues that will allow them to use his confession against him in other ways.