Monday, November 10, 2008

The Court has finally seized some measure of control over the circus surrounding the 8 year-old boy accused of double homicide. A gag order was issued today to stop the bleeding of information the public should never have heard. Juvenile matters are generally supposed to be kept confidential so the issuance of a gag order should come as no surprise. But it is rather appalling that the court had to take that step to stop the Keystone (err, St. Johns, Arizona) cops from saying more than they had already.

The gag order is too little too late as it's already been reported far and wide that the child "confessed." This would pose more of a problem in an adult case or in a case here in Kansas where the defendant would get a jury trial. If this case proceeds to a bench trial, we can more reasonably expect a judge to put news coverage of the case out of his/her mind. The defendant will still suffer damage from the police publicizing the fact that they got the kid to confess. Especially in the internet age, this kind of information, once public, doesn't die. Theoretically, this child is supposed to be able to get a clean slate and try to build a life without this hanging over his head. He is supposed to be able to keep the public from knowing all of the details of his juvenile history. But that went by the wayside in this case where police officers have been making the rounds of the national morning news shows. Hey, police, just because the press asks for an interview, doesn't mean you have to grant it. It's perfectly acceptable, and in this case preferable, to say, "This case involves a juvenile and therefore we are not able to discuss it."

In my state, ethics rules prohibit prosecutors from releasing to the public the existence of a confession. I believe that's a pretty standard ethical rule across the country. The rule has been interpreted to include the police. As in other realms of prosecution, the buck, ethically, stops with the prosecutor. All acts by the police and all information in police files are attributable to the attorney. The state can't do bad things and then hide behind the claim that the actual prosecuting attorney had no knowledge. In the case of confessions being mentioned to the public, though, I never see prosecutors taken to task for the release, which I find infuriating. If there are never any negative consequences for the release of this information, what incentive is there for police departments to stop giving press conferences? We need to start holding prosecutors and police accountable for these deliberate attempts to prejudice the public against suspects.

This case is a good example of why it's so damaging for police to reveal the mere fact that a confession exists. In this case, I can't imagine that this alleged confession will ever be admissible at trial. As I understand it, the police interrogated this boy without a parent or an attorney present. Depending on Arizona state law, that might be all that is necessary to make the statement inadmissible in court. Beyond the lack of a safe adult in the room during the interrogation, I can't imagine that the state can prove the kid's waiver of his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination was a knowing and voluntary waiver. I would really enjoy watching that hearing. Even though the confession itself is highly suspect to the point of being inadmissible in a court of law, its existence is widely known in the court of public opinion.

I've also read that the police in this town are hoping the kid can be charged as an adult. I hope that is a mistake, but with the way this police department has handled the case to this point, I would believe someone there thinks an adult prosecution of this 8 year-old is warranted. I have to believe that the prosecution wouldn't think trying this case in adult court is even an option. And I am fairly confident that no court in the country would buy the idea that an 8 year-old is competent to stand trial in an adult criminal court.

If the police really do have it right about who pulled the trigger here, I just hope that this case will be handled with much more caution, care, and reason than the police department has demonstrated. If this 8 year-old is in fact going to be prosecuted for murder, this is most definitely not just another murder case.


BellsforStacy said...

So I have a question. What good is it to try him as an adult anyway? Can they put him in an adult prison? Or is it so the prosecutor can try to seek the death penalty? Or do they want to try him as an adult so it stays on his record forever?

This whole case makes me sad. What confession can an 8 year old give? People that are bigger than him are supposed to look out for him, and those cops were doing the opposite. Clearly something is very wrong here, and obviously someone has failed this little boy.

S said...

I can't imagine that an adult prison would want him. He certainly couldn't be let free in general population. Even if he was convicted as an adult, he would have to be housed in a juvy facility I would imagine. He most definitely cannot be subjected to the death penalty (min age for anyone in the country is 18 at time of commission).

You're second paragraph really hits it. Whatever is wrong here is not the fault of an 8 year-old. And the adults around him really need to step up and take responsibility rather than trying to hold him responsible the way they would a 30 year-old.

On a side note, isn't it nice to find something we agree on?! :) I bet there's more out there that we just haven't hit on yet.

BellsforStacy said...

Oh I'm sure we agree on bunches. :)

I just don't understand what is motivating the grown-ups in this situation. Clearly they are all crazy.

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