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10/10/97 V.L.T. v. V.L.T.

October 10, 1997


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 95--J--167. Honorable David M. Hall, Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication November 14, 1997.

The Honorable Justice Inglis delivered the opinion of the court. McLAREN and Hutchinson, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Inglis

The Honorable Justice INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court:

Respondent, V.L.T., was adjudicated a delinquent minor after the trial court found she had committed involuntary manslaughter (720 ILCS 5/9--3 (a) (West 1994)). She was made a ward of the court and sentenced to five years' probation. On appeal, respondent argues that the trial court erred in admitting her confession into evidence because the State did not prove the confession was voluntary. For the reasons which follow, we reverse and remand.

This case arises from the death of 22-month-old K.B. on Saturday, January 14, 1995. Respondent, who was 10 years old, baby-sat K.B. that day. In adjudicating her a delinquent, the trial court relied, in part, on written statements obtained on Sunday, January 15, 1995, while she was in police custody. Respondent also was questioned Saturday evening, although the trial court found that she was not then in custody.

The testimony from the hearing on respondent's motion to suppress revealed that Brian Hanna, a juvenile officer from the Waukegan police department, testified that he went with Detective Kerkorian to 920 McAlister to locate respondent at about 11:45 a.m., on January 15, 1995. Inside the house, three young women told the officers that respondent was not there, but Hanna saw her hiding behind a bedroom door. Hanna entered the room and talked to respondent, who finally revealed her identity. The officers asked respondent if she wanted to come to the police station. They did not force her or put her under arrest, but did not ask her if she would rather be interviewed at home.

At that point, Hanna and Kerkorian did not attempt to notify any adult family members that respondent had been taken for questioning. At the hearing, Hanna explained that the officers did not know the whereabouts of respondent's mother and the three women had told the officers they would try to find respondent's grandmother. The officers took respondent to a juvenile interview room without arresting or booking her. Hanna advised respondent of her rights, using a Miranda form for juveniles, and explained the warnings as he gave them. Respondent said she understood her rights. She initialed each written warning and signed the form. Before signing, her only question was about the meaning of "coercion," which Hanna explained. Respondent appeared normal, her speech was coherent, and she seemed to understand everything Hanna said. Hanna told her she could stop talking anytime, but respondent agreed to speak without an attorney. She never said she wanted to stop to get a lawyer or to talk to her mother or grandmother.

According to Hanna, respondent spent only about 15 or 20 minutes in the interview room. The officers did not use any promises, threats, deception, or trickery, and, as best Hanna could tell, respondent gave her statement freely.

Hanna acknowledged that respondent's mother never showed up at the police station and that her grandmother, Betty Davis, did not appear until after respondent's interview. During the interview, no one told the officers that any family members were there, and the officers did not interrupt the interview to check for themselves. From reports, Hanna knew the police previously had trouble locating respondent's mother, for whom an arrest warrant was outstanding. At the hearing, the trial court also took notice that it had been unable to contact respondent's mother.

Respondent's first witness was her maternal grandmother, Betty Davis. Davis lives above the restaurant where she works on 10th Street and sees respondent every day. She was also K.B.'s great aunt, and K.B.'s grandmother worked with her at the restaurant. On the evening of January 14, 1995, the unconscious K.B. was brought to the restaurant. Davis' granddaughters arrived and told her the police were at the house to take respondent in for questioning. Davis went to the house and asked the police if she could ride with respondent; they let her follow their car. Davis recounted that the police did not pick up respondent or start questioning any witnesses until about 9 p.m., when K.B. was pronounced dead at the hospital.

When Davis arrived at the station, the police were talking to numerous potential witnesses. They never sought to question her. Although Davis asked at least three times to see respondent, she did not see her until after 3 a.m., when almost everyone had left. At that time, Waukegan juvenile officer Fernando Shipley told Davis that he had received two or three statements from respondent. Shipley said he did not really believe respondent and wanted respondent to come back Sunday for more questioning. In the meantime, he turned respondent over to Davis, who took her home and returned to the restaurant. That night, Davis did not talk to respondent about what happened or about the police interview.

Davis also testified that, at some point that evening, an officer brought Davis into the interview room with respondent. Davis told her to tell the officers the truth.

On Sunday morning, one of Davis' granddaughters went to the restaurant and told her respondent was again at the police station. Davis arrived at the station about 15 minutes later and asked an officer at the desk about respondent. The officer checked and said that ...

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