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In re Robert M.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 4, 1990

In re ROBERT M. [*]

Argued Feb. 9, 1990.

Valerie J. Quinn, Deputy Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, was Paul D. Eschuk, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant (respondent).

John H. Kearney, State's Advocate, for appellee (petitioner).


BORDEN, Judge.

The juvenile respondent appeals from the adjudication of delinquency, after he was found responsible for committing arson in the third degree in violation[22 Conn.App. 54] of General Statutes § 53a-113. He claims that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress all statements made by him to the police. We reverse the trial court's judgment.

The trial court could reasonably have found the following facts. On the evening of January 19, 1989, Officer Edward Golden of the New Milford police department arrived at the Lords Trailer Park in response to a call that a trailer was on fire. The fire started at approximately 7:15 p.m. Golden assisted the fire department until more help arrived. He thereafter engaged in crowd control, at which time he noticed the respondent holding a fire extinguisher and wearing various items of firemen's apparel. Because of the respondent's appearance,

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Golden asked him whether he was with the fire department. The respondent stated that he was not. He did state, however, that he knew many of the fire department personnel, and that he was enrolled in a program to join the department. The respondent also told Golden that he had been the first at the scene and that he had called in the fire. On the basis of this discussion, Golden considered the respondent to be a witness, and probably a suspect. The respondent, having told Golden that he was fifteen years old, was asked to give a statement at the New Milford police department with a parent accompanying him.

Later that evening, at approximately 8:45 p.m., the respondent and his father, M, arrived at the police station. Golden and Sergeant James Engle, in the presence of M, took a statement from the respondent. At 9:20 p.m., the statement was reduced to writing. The respondent, in the presence of M, was orally advised of his rights at this time. [1] Because of various inconsistencies[22 Conn.App. 55] in the respondent's statement, the officers did not believe it to be true and, as a result, they never asked the respondent to sign it. At 10:20 p.m., a notice of rights form was signed by both the respondent and M, after Engle read them the rights on the form and asked whether they understood them.

While being questioned about the inconsistencies in his first statement, the respondent stated he would feel "more comfortable" talking to David Lathrop, the fire marshal for the town of New Milford, whom he knew. At approximately 10:45 p.m., Lathrop replaced Golden in the room, leaving the respondent in the presence of M, Engle and Lathrop. Because of M's presence, the respondent was reticent about making any statements regarding his involvement in setting the fire. He would start to make a statement, but would then withdraw. Although at this point in the interrogation the respondent did not explicitly state that he started the fire, he did make some statements implying guilt, including that his firemen friends would look down on him if they found out that he was responsible for the fire.

Subsequently, Engle suggested that M leave the room. Engle asked the respondent if he would prefer to talk without M's being present, and he asked M if he would be amenable to leaving the room for a short period of time. The respondent and M acceded to Engle's request. At some time between 11 and 11:30 p.m., M and Engle left the room. Shortly thereafter, Engle returned alone to join the respondent and Lathrop. Without M present, the respondent, at the prompting of Lathrop, orally confessed to starting the fire. At approximately midnight, immediately after this oral confession, M was called back into the room. In [22 Conn.App. 56] the presence of M, the respondent repeated his statement. Shortly thereafter, also in the presence of M, the statement was reduced to writing on a form that had an advisement of rights printed on it. In addition to the written statement, Engle drew a diagram of the trailer that had been set afire, and the respondent indicated thereon where he had started the fire. [2] Engle did not reread the respondent's rights at this time, but told both the respondent and M that they were the same rights of which they previously had been advised. At 12:15 a.m., both M and the respondent read and signed this second written statement, attesting that it was an accurate representation of the immediately preceding oral statement.

The respondent moved to suppress all of his statements, both oral and written. The state did not offer into evidence the respondent's oral statement made in M's presence; it offered only the respondent's written statement. The court denied the motion

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as to the written statement and admitted it into evidence. The court noted that the respondent's oral statement made outside the presence of M would have been inadmissible had the state sought to enter it into evidence. The court found that because M was present at the time the written statement was given, the interrogation did not violate the parental presence requirement of General Statutes § 46b-137(a), and it rejected the respondent's argument that the second statement was a product of the preceding, tainted statement.

On appeal, the respondent frames his claim regarding the court's failure to suppress his statement in two parts. First, he argues that the parental presence requirement of General Statutes § 46b-137(a) renders inadmissible his oral confession, made outside of the [22 Conn.App. 57] presence of M, irrespective of the circumstances giving rise to M's absence. In his first argument, the respondent also contends that a parent's absence during any part of the interrogation process renders all statements made as part of that interrogation inadmissible. Second, the respondent argues that because the oral statement made outside of M's presence was inadmissible, the subsequent written statement was an inadmissible product of the illegally obtained confession, and that M's presence during the latter statement was insufficient to purge that taint.

The respondent's oral statement given outside of M's presence was clearly inadmissible for use in any later delinquency proceeding initiated against him. The language of General Statutes § 46b-137(a) [3] is clear and unambiguous with respect to the admissibility of juvenile confessions. Under that statute, for a confession to be admissible in a delinquency proceeding, it must be made in the presence of a parent or guardian, after the parent or ...

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