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In re I.F.

California Court of Appeals, Third District, Calaveras

February 22, 2018

In re I.F., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
I.F., Defendant and Appellant.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Calaveras County No. 13JW5445 Thomas A. Smith, Judge. Reversed with directions.

          Marcia C. Levine, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Kathleen A. McKenna and Angelo S. Edralin, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          RENNER, J.

         Appellant I.F., then age 12, and his sister L.F., age 8, were home alone on the morning of April 27, 2013. During the course of the morning, someone entered L.F.'s bedroom and stabbed her to death. Later that day, and in the days that followed, I.F. made a series of inconsistent and cumulatively incriminating statements to police.

         On May 14, 2013, a petition was filed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 alleging that I.F. committed murder (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a)), [1] and personally used a knife in the commission of the offense (§ 12022, subd. (b)(1)). Following a contested jurisdictional hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition and found true the allegation that I.F. personally used a knife in the commission of the crime.

         I.F. appeals, arguing the juvenile court erroneously admitted his pre-arrest statements in violation of Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436 (Miranda). We agree that two of four challenged statements were inadmissible. Because the Miranda error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18 (Chapman), we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         B.F. and C.W. lived in Calaveras County with a blended family that included six children, ranging from one to 15 years of age.[2] Most of the family attended a Little League baseball game on April 27, 2013, leaving the house at approximately 7:00 a.m. I.F. and his sister L.F. stayed home.

         C.W. received a call on her cell phone from I.F. at 12:06 p.m. I.F. told her that someone had come into the house, hit L.F., and then run out. C.W. and B.F. hurried home, leaving the rest of the children at the baseball field with C.W.'s grandmother. C.W. called 911 on the way home. She told the 911 operator that the children were okay, but “really scared.” The 911 operator dispatched police officers to the house, and then called I.F. A recording of the 911 operator's call to I.F. was admitted into evidence at the jurisdictional hearing.

         During the call, a distraught I.F. reported that he was in the bathroom when he heard a door slam. He then heard someone yelling and banging on the bathroom door. He emerged from the bathroom and saw a “Mexican” man running out the sliding glass back door. The man had long gray hair and was wearing blue “work pants” or jeans and a black shirt. Approximately 90 seconds into the call, I.F. told the 911 operator that the man “stabbed [L.F.] a bunch of times, ” adding, “she's like dead.”

         When they reached the house, I.F. was in the living room with a phone in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. L.F. was lying on the floor of her bedroom. Her legs were buckled as though she had collapsed. As B.F. approached, he saw that L.F. had a bloody cut on her forehead and blood on her shirt. When he lifted L.F.'s shirt, he saw multiple stab wounds. Although B.F. could see that L.F. was hurt, he did not know the extent of her injuries-or realize that she had been stabbed-until he lifted her shirt.

         B.F. scooped L.F. up and carried her down the hall and out the front door. There, he was met by Calaveras County Sheriff's Deputy Shawn Cechini, who instructed B.F. to set L.F. down on the porch. Paramedics arrived, and determined that L.F., who was cool to the touch, had no pulse and was not breathing.

         While paramedics attempted to revive L.F., Cechini spoke with I.F. I.F. told Cechini that he had been using the bathroom. He emerged from the bathroom and saw a man running towards the sliding glass back door. I.F. said that he chased the man to the back door, and then, upon hearing L.F. call out, turned around and went to check on her. As they talked, Cechini noticed that there was blood smeared across I.F.'s right forearm.

         L.F.'s lifeless body was transported to the hospital. An autopsy would later reveal that L.F. suffered 22 stab wounds, mainly in the chest area. Three of the stab wounds were potentially lethal.

         A. The First Interview: At the Hospital on April 27, 2013

         Detective Wade Whitney of the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department responded to the hospital on the day of the murder. Whitney contacted B.F. in the parking lot near the ambulance bay. Whitney asked B.F. for permission to interview I.F., which B.F. gave. At the time, police were trying to get additional information about the intruder, who was already the subject of an intensive manhunt.

         Whitney interviewed I.F. in the airlock vestibule between the emergency room and the ambulance bay. The exterior doors leading to the ambulance bay are equipped with a keypad combination lock. A combination, which is known to law enforcement, is required to enter the airlock vestibule from the ambulance bay. No combination is required to leave the airlock vestibule; the glass double doors open automatically when a person stands in front of them. Both sets of doors, the interior doors leading to the emergency room and the exterior doors leading to the ambulance bay, were open and unlocked during the interview.

         The interview lasted approximately 16 minutes. B.F. was present the entire time. Whitney wore his detective's uniform, which consists of a black polo shirt and khaki pants. Whitney also wore a holstered gun and badge. Whitney did not handcuff I.F. or direct his movements. Whitney did not tell I.F. he was under arrest or not free to leave.

         During the interview, I.F. explained that he woke up between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m. and made breakfast. I.F. and L.F. ate and then watched a movie. After the movie, L.F. retired to her bedroom and I.F. went to the bathroom. While in the bathroom, I.F. heard a door slam. He then heard someone yelling in heavily accented English, “ ‘Hey I know you're in here, come out.' ” He then heard L.F. scream. Although I.F. told the 911 operator that the intruder struck the bathroom door, he did not mention this detail during his conversation with Whitney.

         I.F. said that he opened the door to the bathroom in time to see a man running toward the sliding glass back door. I.F. told Whitney that he followed the man to the door, and then realized that L.F. might need help. He stopped, turned around, and ran towards his sister's bedroom, grabbing a knife from the kitchen counter, “just in case there's anyone else.” When he reached the bedroom, I.F. saw L.F. lying on the floor, her shirt covered in blood. He dropped the knife, and then picked it up. He then went back to the kitchen, returned the knife to the counter, and called C.W.

         Whitney showed I.F. photos of possible suspects, but none of them resembled the alleged intruder. Whitney then said, “Okay. And I'm gonna tell your dad that I wouldn't be doing my job, if I didn't ask this next question. And I will tell you, [I.F.], that you are not required to answer this question. Do you understand that? Okay. [¶] You absolutely have the right to say, ‘I'm not saying a word.' And if you want... you know where I'm going with this, right? Okay. You do not have to answer my question, do you understand that? You're not under arrest, you're not in trouble. But I have to ask. Okay? Okay. [¶] Did you do anything to harm your sister?” I.F. said, “no.” Whitney then concluded the interview. After the interview, I.F. rejoined his family in the parking lot.

         B. The Second Interview: At the District Attorney's Office on April 27, 2013

         Later, while still at the hospital, Whitney asked B.F. for permission to interview I.F. a second time. During the hearing on I.F.'s subsequent motion to suppress, Whitney explained that the purpose of the second interview was to get more information about the intruder. No one asked I.F. whether he wanted to submit to a second interview.

         B.F. drove I.F. to the district attorney's office, a short distance from the hospital. Whitney and Gary Sims, an investigator with the district attorney's office, showed I.F. to an interview room in a portable trailer near the district attorney's office. The interview room was equipped with cameras and audio recording equipment, and was accessible by means of two doors, one leading to an adjoining observation room and another leading outside. Both doors were open during the second interview, which B.F. watched via closed circuit television from the observation room. B.F. was not allowed to join I.F. in the interview room.[3]

         As before, Whitney wore a black polo shirt and khaki pants, and a holstered gun and badge. Sims wore jeans and a long sleeve shirt, with a gun and badge. Neither Whitney nor Sims handcuffed I.F. or placed him under arrest.

         The second interview lasted approximately 77 minutes. At the beginning of the interview, Whitney explained: “[I.F.] we brought you here today because you witnessed or were at home when your sister was... seriously injured. [¶]... [¶] Okay. So we want to talk to you as a witness in that case. Please understand both of these doors are open, you are not under arrest, you're not being detained, you're here on your free will. So you can get up, walk out anytime you need to, if you don't want to talk to us. Your dad is in the other room okay?” Within the first fifteen minutes of questioning, a cat entered or attempted to enter the interview room from outside. Throughout the interview, Whitney, who took the lead in the questioning, encouraged I.F. to let them know if he wanted to take a break. I.F. declined all such invitations.

         During the second interview, I.F. reiterated that he was in the bathroom when he heard a door open, followed by a man with an accent yelling, “ ‘Hey, I know you're in here, come out.' ” As before, I.F. said he heard L.F. scream, and then opened the bathroom door in time to see a man running towards the sliding glass back door. I.F. estimated that he finished going to the bathroom and opened the door within 10 seconds of hearing the man's voice.

         Once again, I.F. said that he chased the man to the sliding glass back door, then turned and ran towards L.F.'s room, grabbing a recently washed knife from the kitchen counter as he passed. During the second interview, I.F. emphasized that he did not enter L.F.'s bedroom, but merely observed her prone body from the doorway. He then went back to the kitchen, returned the knife to the counter, and called C.W. I.F.'s description of the intruder was consistent with the description he offered during the first interview. As before, I.F. omitted the detail about the intruder banging on the bathroom door.

         After approximately 68 minutes, B.F. interrupted the interview to ask whether the detectives could “wrap it up.” B.F. said that he understood the importance of allowing the detectives to ask questions, but noted it was getting late, adding “there's still a lot of chaos to deal with tonight.” Whitney and Sims responded that they were almost done. Although Whitney would later testify that he would have liked to continue the interview, he concluded the questioning approximately nine minutes later. B.F. and I.F. left the district attorney's office shortly thereafter.

         C. The Third Interview: At the District Attorney's Office on April 29, 2013

         Police interviewed I.F. a third time on April 29, 2013. That day, the family was asked to come to the district attorney's office to complete paperwork for the county's victim witness program. When they arrived, they were told that the victim witness coordinator was running late, and asked (but not ordered) to wait. While they were waiting, Calaveras County Sheriff Gary Kuntz appeared and asked B.F. for permission to take I.F. to the family home for a walk-through of the crime scene. B.F. asked I.F. if he wanted to go to the crime scene with Sheriff Kuntz, and I.F. said no. B.F. and police respected I.F.'s wishes.

         Later, Whitney appeared and asked the family to provide DNA samples, which were taken by swabbing the insides of their cheeks. While collecting the samples, Whitney explained that police wanted to conduct additional interviews, including another interview of I.F. B.F. consented to the request, instructing I.F. to “speak clearly” during the interview.

         The third interview was conducted by Sergeant Tim Sturm and Detective Josh Crabtree of the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department. The interview took place in the interview room described above. The doors were unlocked, but closed. Both detectives wore black polo shirts emblazoned with sheriff's stars and khaki pants. Neither carried a weapon. I.F. was not handcuffed or placed under arrest.

         The third interview lasted approximately 84 minutes. During the interview, I.F. largely repeated the sequence of events described above, with two significant variations. First, he reintroduced the idea that the alleged intruder had been banging on the bathroom door, a detail he omitted from the first and second interviews. Second, he made no mention of the knife he previously claimed to have grabbed from the kitchen counter.

         After approximately 42 minutes of non-confrontational questioning, Sturm introduced the subject of DNA evidence, asking, “Do you think that... if we get the DNA from the right person it'll help us solve this crime?” Moments later, following a brief discussion of television crime shows and the blood evidence in L.F.'s room, Crabtree said, “So there's a couple things that... that we know and that we... I think maybe you... you've forgotten and I can understand that cuz this is a really big thing right? And so there's a couple things that we know about and I want to give you a few minutes to kind of just relax okay? Cuz I could tell you're upset and just think about some stuff and then we're gonna come back in okay? And then we... shouldn't be much longer. Okay? But just remember there's things that we know, that we need you to remember them cuz it's really important. Okay? So we'll be right back.” Crabtree and Sturm then readied themselves to leave the room. As they did so, Sturm asked, “You need anything? You want me to open the door? You want to step outside or anything?” I.F. demurred. Sturm and Crabtree left the interview room, closing the door behind them.

         The interview resumed after a brief interlude, during which I.F. sat virtually motionless in his chair. Sturm apologized for the interruption, stating, “We're going to... we're going to not take a break too long because you got family okay? So at the end of this, you [get] to take off out of here with your family.” Sturm and Crabtree then allowed, in empathetic tones, that they had both made mistakes as young people, which had been forgiven. Following a discussion of the therapeutic benefits of unburdening one's conscience, Sturm said, “No matter what does get said today, you... you leave with your parents no matter what. And when I say, ‘No matter what[, ]' I mean anything. Okay? Ev... anything, you leave with your parents and you get to walk out [of] here and be with your mom and dad and help them through this. Okay?”

         Sturm then returned to the subject of forensic evidence, leading to the following exchange:

         “[STURM:] They're still collecting evidence and the thing about the evidence is... is that it tells the truth. And that's why we... and that's why we hope that everyone involved in the investigation also tells the truth. And... and again, when I look at you, I can tell that I... I think that you... I think that you want to tell the truth with us. Because I... I think that there's a... there's a part of this that sits just right here. It's right at that back... back of your tongue and it's just not quite coming out yet.

         “[CRABTREE:] I can tell by looking at you, that you have something on your mind. Can you just tell us?

         “[I.F.:] Um....

         “[STURM:] You are going home with your mom and dad today. Okay? But we need to know. There is no man that ran out of that house is there?

         “[I.F.:] Yeah there is[, ] I saw him.”

         Shifting gears, Sturm confronted I.F. with the 911 recording, asking how I.F. could have known that L.F. had been stabbed without entering the room, when B.F. was not aware that she had been stabbed until he examined her closely. I.F. responded, “I don't know I... I could have seen it I guess.”

         In the meantime, B.F., who was waiting outside, was growing increasingly agitated. As B.F. would later testify, the family had not planned on spending the day at the district attorney's office. Rather, the family expected to complete the paperwork for the victim witness program and be on their way. As the interview wore on, B.F. began to feel as though he had been summoned to the district attorney's office under false pretenses.

         B.F. knocked on the door of the trailer, which was closed and locked. One of a number of law enforcement officers in the observation room opened the door. B.F. asked, “ ‘How much longer? Is my son okay?' ” The officer responded, “ ‘Yes, he is fine.... Just be patient.' ” B.F. waited approximately 25 minutes, and then knocked a second time. A law enforcement officer opened the door, and B.F. asked, “ ‘Why is it taking so long?' ” The officer responded, “ ‘Just a couple more minutes, ' ” and closed the door again. B.F. continued to wait.

         Back in the interview room, Crabtree and Sturm stepped up their efforts to elicit a confession. They intimated that they already had DNA evidence establishing I.F. as the killer, and then pressed for an “explanation” or “reason” for the crime. They challenged I.F.'s account of the events surrounding the murder, saying, “the evidence tells us, obviously there was something bad that happened in that house. And the evidence doesn't tell us that there was a man, a great big man running through your house, with you.” They urged I.F to admit his “mistake” so that he could “move[] on” and “feel better.” They assured I.F. that his parents would love him “no matter what.” I.F.'s responses-to the extent he responded at all-were short and frequently inaudible.

         Outside, B.F.'s patience was growing thin. He knocked on the trailer door a third time. A law enforcement officer opened the door and said, “ ‘a couple more minutes, ' ” and then summarily closed the door, without giving B.F. an opportunity to speak. B.F., now furious, immediately knocked a fourth time, telling the officer that he “ ‘wanted to take [I.F.] and leave.' ” B.F. was then admitted into the observation room.

         In the interview room, Crabtree confronted I.F. with Cechini's observation that there had been blood on his forearm on the day of the murder. As Crabtree questioned I.F., Sturm received a message instructing him to leave the interview room. Sturm excused himself, closing the door behind him. In the observation room, Sturm learned that B.F. wanted to end the interview. Following a two-minute absence, Sturm returned to the interview room, saying, “All right, we are done.” Crabtree promptly terminated the interview, and I.F. left the district attorney's office with his family. By the end of the third interview, Crabtree had come to view I.F. as a suspect.

         D. The Fourth Interview: At the District Attorney's Office on May 9, 2013

         Captain Jim Macedo of the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department telephoned C.W. on May 8, 2013. Macedo told C.W. that police wanted to conduct separate interviews of each of the family's surviving children. Specifically, he explained that police wanted to show the children photographs of known sex offenders and discuss family dynamics, such as which children played where, and with whom. Macedo added that police prefer to interview children without parents present, as they tend to be more forthcoming. C.W. and B.F. were concerned that being left alone for police interviews might be too hard on the children, who were understandably traumatized by the death of their sister. They agreed to the interviews on the condition that one or the other must be allowed to observe.

         The family appeared at the district attorney's office the following day, May 9, 2013. B.F. and C.W. met with Macedo and Special Agent Chris Campion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Campion renewed Macedo's request to interview the children individually, without parents present. B.F., sensing that Campion was attempting to renege on the bargain he struck with Macedo, became irate. He told Campion and Macedo that “he knew he didn't have to be there, that he chose to be there on that date and bring his family down, [and] that he could leave at any time.” Shortly thereafter, B.F. got up and left the room, with C.W. in tow. He collected the children, saying, “ ‘Let's go, we're leaving.” Together, the family left the district attorney's office and headed to their car. Macedo intercepted them in the parking lot. Following a brief discussion, B.F. and C.W. agreed to stay on condition that they would be allowed to observe the interviews, and Campion, who had offended B.F., would not be allowed to participate.

         The interviews took place in two locations: the above-described interview room and another interview room in the Cal Works building, approximately one mile away. To Macedo's surprise, B.F. announced that C.W. would observe the interview of I.F., which was to take place in the interview room, while B.F. would observe the interview of another child in the nearby Cal Works building. As she ascended a ramp leading to the door of the trailer, C.W. turned around, expecting to see I.F. following her. Instead, she saw two law enforcement officers, a man and a woman, flanking I.F., and walking him around the building. I.F. was not surrounded by uniformed officers, handcuffed, or moved at gunpoint. Nevertheless, C.W. became alarmed. She called out, “ ‘Where are you guys taking him? This wasn't agreed to. He's supposed to be here.' ” One of the officers responded that they were bringing I.F. into the trailer by means of another entrance. C.W. saw I.F. again a short time later once officers in the observation room got her viewing screen turned on, at which point the interview had already commenced. The incident made her uncomfortable.

         The fourth interview proceeded in two parts, both of which were conducted by Crabtree and Special Agent Sam Dilland of the FBI. Crabtree wore a button-down shirt and tie, with dress slacks, but no jacket. He did not carry a gun or badge. Dilland wore a suit. The record does not disclose whether Dilland carried a gun or badge; however, nothing suggests that she presented herself in a manner that would have been likely to intimidate a young person.

         The first part of the fourth interview lasted approximately 97 minutes. The interview took place in the interview room, with the doors unlocked. The record is ambiguous as to whether the doors were open or closed. During the jurisdictional hearing, Crabtree testified that the exterior door continuously opened and closed due to wind. On the video recording, Dilland can be seen standing as she says, “It's getting warm in here, (inaudible) door open a little bit.” Later, Crabtree can be seen standing to close a door. Although Crabtree testified that the interior door leading to the observation room was unlocked, neither Crabtree nor anyone else testified that the interior door was open. On this record, we assume that the exterior door was open at some points and closed at others, while the interior door remained closed.

         Dilland began the interview by acknowledging that I.F. had already discussed the events in question with Crabtree, adding, “If you don't want to answer a question, just tell me. ‘Sam I don't want to answer it.' That's fine. Okay? If you don't know an answer say, ‘Hey I don't... I don't know' and that... and that's fine also.”

         Dilland then engaged I.F. in small talk on a variety of subjects, including school, video games, movies, friends and family. After approximately 27 minutes, Dilland rose and opened the door. Shortly thereafter, Crabtree and Dilland, speaking over one another, said:

         “[CRABTREE:] You know there's a door there and you know that door's open so...

         “[DILLAND:] Yeah.

         “[CRABTREE:] if you want bam, you just

         “[DILLAND:] Yeah

         “[CRABTREE:] leave you alone.”

         I.F. nodded slightly, but did not say anything.

         Dilland then turned to the events of April 27, 2013. As before, I.F. said that he woke up and prepared breakfast for himself and L.F. I.F. and L.F. ate breakfast, and then watched a movie. After the movie, L.F. went to her room. I.F. said that he could not recall what he did immediately after the movie, but he eventually went to the bathroom. While in the bathroom, I.F. said that he heard a door slam, and then a man yelling, “ ‘Hey, I know you're in here, come out.' ” When asked whether the man “was banging” or “just yelling, ” I.F. responded, “Just yelling.”

         I.F. said that he heard his sister scream, then quickly finished up in the bathroom and opened the door in time to see a man run towards the sliding glass back door. I.F. said that he chased the man to the door, then remembered L.F. and ran towards her room, stopping at the doorway. I.F. said that he saw L.F. lying on the floor, her shirt bloody. He then called C.W. I.F. did not say anything about a knife.

         Throughout the interview, Dilland acknowledged how difficult her questions were, noting that they required I.F. to relive the day of the murder. At one point, as Dilland expressed her appreciation for I.F.'s willingness to answer questions, a door appears to have opened, and Crabtree rose to close it. Moments later, following a brief discussion of the 911 call, Dilland sympathized, “I can tell it's hard for you to talk ...


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