WisBar News: Appeals Court Upholds 15-year-old’s Murder Confession as Voluntary:

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  • WisBar News
    January
    14
    2014

    Appeals Court Upholds 15-year-old’s Murder Confession as Voluntary

    Joe Forward
    Legal Writer

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    Jan. 14, 2014 – Raheem Moore, a 15-year-old, argued that he was too young and dumb to voluntarily confess to murder. But a state appeals court recently ruled that Moore was smart enough to make that confession, and police did not coerce it out of him.

    Moore confessed to shooting someone dead in the fall of 2010, but this confession came 11 hours after police began interrogating him. Moore drummed up an initial story in which he was the lookout on a robbery turned murder. But the story slowly changed.

    Police made every effort to inform Moore of his rights. Detectives repeatedly read him his Miranda rights and asked him to explain whether he understood. He said he did.

    In the eleventh hour, though, Moore asked police to stop recording the interview. During this unrecorded portion of the interview, Moore confessed that he was the shooter. When police began recording again without his knowledge, the confession continued.

    Moore was charged with first-degree reckless homicide and pled guilty to second-degree reckless murder after the court denied his motion to suppress the confession.

    In State v. Moore, 2013AP127-CR (Jan. 14, 2014), a three-judge panel for the District I Court of Appeals rejected Moore’s claim that his confession was involuntary and his motion to suppress should have been granted by the circuit court judge.

    Examining Moore’s personal characteristics and the tactics used by police, the appeals court concluded that Moore’s confession was made voluntarily.

    Moore had argued that he was only in eighth grade at the time of the crime, and intelligence-test scores showed the he was on the low end of the spectrum.

    But the appeals court was not convinced. The court noted evidence that Moore deliberately underperformed on those tests, had no mental health issues, and showed “street smarts” in concocting lies and an ongoing narrative about his innocence.

    “Furthermore, as we have seen, Moore was able to explain his Miranda rights to police in his own words,” Judge Patricia Curley noted.

    In addition, although Moore was held and questioned over a 12-hour period, police did not use coercive measures to draw the confession, the appeals court explained.

    “[T]he interviews were certainly long, but did include several breaks for meals and visits to the restroom, and were not excessive under the circumstances,” Curley noted.

    “[T]his was not an instance of a young defendant ultimately ‘cracking’ under police pressure following hours of unrelenting, excessively manipulative interrogation.”

    Finally, the panel upheld the admissibility of Moore’s unrecorded statements and all subsequent statements recorded without Moore’s knowledge.

    The court noted that state statute requires police interrogations of juveniles to be recorded, but unrecorded statements are still admissible under Wis. Stat. section 938.31(3)(c)1 if “the juvenile refused to respond or cooperate in the custodial interrogation” if recorded, and police record the suspect’s refusal.

    “Although Moore had been assured earlier that the police did not share interview recordings with alleged accomplices or the public generally, he still wanted the recording device turned off,” Judge Curley explained. “Moore’s words and actions in these circumstances constituted a ‘refusal.’ No magic words were required.”

    Judge Joan Kessler wrote a concurring opinion disagreeing on this point. She said police violated state law by turning off the recording device, and Moore’s discomfort did not constitute a “refusal to cooperate.” However, the violation was harmless, she said.

    “Like the right to counsel, a demand to turn off a recording device stemming from a refusal to respond to questions or cooperate must be clear and unequivocal,” noted Kessler, who said the record did not show a clear and unambiguous refusal.