People v. Lessie

The NJDC co-authored an amicus brief before the California Supreme Court with the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office on the issue of whether a child’s request for a parent is a per se invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights.

In this case, Lessie, the 16-year-old defendant, was taken into police custody and interrogated. Prior to and during the interrogation he had asked to speak to his father. The police did not permit Lessie to call his father until after he had confessed. Defendant’s confession was admitted at trial.

The amicus brief asserted Miranda violations in the admission of the Lessie’s confession obtained after he asked to call his father. NJDC’s portion of the brief argued that adolescent development research has demonstrated that juveniles are particularly susceptible to custodial interrogations. Because of this vulnerability, certain due process safeguards should be put in place, including a per se rule to require counsel at the interrogation of a juvenile suspect. The brief argued that a per se rule was necessary because the totality of circumstances test used by many jurisdictions in evaluating waiver during custodial interrogations is typically applied very conservatively by courts and does not take into account developmental differences between adolescents and adults.

The California Supreme Court disagreed with amici and held that the totality of the circumstances test is correctly applied to a minor defendant’s claim that his or her statements were elicited in violation of Miranda, and that in this case, defendant impliedly waived his Miranda rights.

Court: California Supreme Court
Filed: April , 2009
Amicus Brief Discusses: Adolescent Development, Appointment of Counsel, Police Interrogation; Waiver of Counsel

Decision: January 28, 2010