In re S.W.N., 2016 IL App (3d) 160080 (July). Episode 210 (Duration 11:57)
Minor had an IQ of 70, otherwise voluntary confession suppressed.
Great example of the court relying a little too much on a recorded interrogation.
This was an investigation of a forceful rape that occurred the night before.
Minor immediately interrogate. The minor ended up confessing to a forcible sexual assault.
The officer only knew that defendant played on his school’s special olympic basketball team. The officer did nothing else to gathering information on the minor’s mental and cognitive abilities.
Proof of Mental Ability
In court, the forensic psychologist testified that the minor had numerous cognitive deficiencies, had an IQ of 70 and would not have understood his Miranda waiver.
Now here is a fine point. The expert was not saying the minor didn’t understand the interrogation questions nor saying that the minor provided an involuntary statement; she was only saying that he likely did not understand the waiver.
He was not retarded, but had extreme impaired functioning.
The minor presented 3 school officials who all said the minor has a good vocabulary of individual words, but the words put together to describe intangible rights would have been a big cognitive hurdle for the minor. They all said he often seeks to please to get past the questioning or testing, but later reveals that he didn’t understand the original question.
Trial Court Unconvinced
The trial court denied the motion to suppress on two points: First the minor was not in custody so Miranda was not required.
Second, the officer took great care in advising respondent of his rights.
The court commented that the officer went considerably farther than just a mere ritualistic recital of the Miranda warnings. The court also put great emphasis on the video recording of the interview, finding the suggestion that respondent did not understand his rights was belied by the video.
Respondent appeared relatively calm, appeared to understand the situation, and was able to provide clear answers to the questions. The court found that respondent’s repeated nods constituted a full acknowledgment of his rights in context. On that point, the court noted: “He is nodding emphatically, as he always does when it’s clear that he understands what is going on.” Further, the court stated: “I saw a kid in that video that was very focused. He was with [the officer] every step of the way.”
The minor was sentenced to JIDOC.
Reversed & Remanded
The reviewing court saw it differently.
On the custody issue the court said our supreme court clarified that the reasonable person standard for custody inquiries must take into account the age and mental capabilities of the person being questioned. The Braggs court reasoned that the factors of age, intelligence, and mental makeup are “analytically intertwined” with the reasonable person standard. See People v. Braggs, 209 Ill. 2d 492, 506 (2003).
The established legal principle is that juvenile defendants are generally more susceptible to police coercion, and that this susceptibility must be taken into account when establishing procedural safeguards attendant to custodial interrogation.
If a juvenile is more susceptible to police coercion during a custodial interrogation, then the same juvenile is also more susceptible to the impression that he is, in fact, in custody in the first instance. This reasoning extends with equal force to defendants with mental impairments.
Simply stated, just as the mentally impaired are more susceptible to police coercion, they are more susceptible to the impression that they are in custody.
Considering respondent’s intellectual limitations along with the other appropriate factors the reviewing court said this respondent was subjected to a custodial interrogation, and that the Miranda warnings were therefore required.
Was It A Knowing Waiver?
The reviewing court held that the overwhelming weight of the evidence in the present case warrants a finding that respondent did not knowingly and intelligently waive his Miranda rights.
The trial court’s finding that the officer had taken great care and gone beyond a ritualistic recitation, was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Indeed, the officer himself testified that he had delivered the warnings in the same fashion he would to an adult of average intelligence. He said that he had read the Miranda warnings to respondent “with very little explanation of what they mean,” falling short of the “special care” required in taking confessions from juveniles and intellectually impaired individuals.
The totality of the circumstances indicate that respondent did not understand his Miranda rights, nor did he comprehend what their waiver would entail. No special care was taken to ensure that respondent, an intellectually impaired juvenile, understood the nature of the rights or the consequences of waiving them.
Accordingly, respondent could not have knowingly and intelligently waived those rights, and the incriminating statements he made while in custodial interrogation are inadmissible.