Joseph H. v. California

Joseph H. was 10-years-old when he shot and killed his abusive father. He was adjudicated delinquent for the murder based on statements gathered by police after a highly problematic Miranda waiver, which is at issue in this case.

At the time of the waiver, the only adult present to advise and support Joseph was his stepmother, who had conflicting legal interests:  she was a victim of the crime and potentially facing criminal charges herself. Joseph was told by police officers that it was his choice and his stepmother’s choice to waive his Miranda rights, and that it was okay if he did not understand his Miranda rights because “that’s why [his] mom is here.”

Joseph also demonstrated a lack of understanding of Miranda before his confession, explaining, for example, that the right to remain silent “means that I have the right to stay calm.” Despite this misunderstanding and his stepmother’s clear conflict of interest, officers deemed Joseph’s Miranda waiver valid and proceeded with the interrogation.

Joseph raised the validity of his Miranda waiver in an appeal to the California Appellate Courts. The Fourth Appellate District, Division Two found Joseph’s Miranda waiver to be valid. Joseph filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court of California.

Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus letter supporting Joseph’s petition for review. Our letter argued that given the egregious context in which Joseph was advised by a parent with conflicting interests, and in light of the unique legal and developmental status of children, the Miranda errors were not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, we argued that the Court should grant review to clarify the standard for a ten-year-old’s waiver of his or her Miranda rights.

In a four to three decision, the Supreme Court of California denied Joseph’s petition for review. You can read Chief Counsel Marsha Levick’s blog in the Huffington Post on the missed opportunity to establish that ten-year-olds are incapable of waiving their Miranda rights on their own here.

Joseph H. filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. Juvenile Law Center along with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth filed an amicus brief in support of Joseph’s petition.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Joseph's petition, leaving for another day the question of what constitutional parameters should be set when police interrogate children and under what circumstances, if ever, children can be qualified to waive their Miranda rights.