State v. Saldierna, __ N.C. __, 794 S.E.2d 474 (2016)

Reversed and Remanded
There is a dissent.

The 16-year-old defendant’s request to call his mother at the beginning of the police interrogation was not a clear invocation of his right to consult a parent or guardian before being questioned. After the interrogating officer read defendant his Miranda and juvenile warnings, defendant initialed and signed a Juvenile Waiver of Rights form indicating that he desired to answer questions without a lawyer, parent, or guardian present. He then asked, “Um, can I call my mom,” and the interrogating officer allowed defendant to use her cell phone to make the call. Defendant did not reach his mother but spoke to someone else and then returned to the booking area where the interrogation resumed. During the interrogation, defendant confessed. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress his statement on grounds that it was obtained in violation of his Miranda rights and his juvenile rights under G.S. 7B-2101. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order, concluding that although the defendant’s request to call his mother was ambiguous, interrogating officers had a duty to clarify whether the juvenile was invoking his statutory rights before proceeding with the interrogation. Reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court noted that a juvenile’s statutory right to parental presence during a custodial interrogation is analogous to the constitutional right to counsel. In Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452 (1994), the U.S. Supreme Court held that in order to invoke the right to counsel during an interrogation, the defendant must do so unambiguously and officers have no duty to clarify ambiguous statements. The N.C. Supreme Court has previously applied Davis to an interrogation involving a juvenile defendant and concluded that law enforcement officers were not required to cease questioning when the defendant made an ambiguous statement implicating his right to remain silent. See State v. Golphin, 352 N.C. 364 (2000). Thus, the Davis analysis applies to juvenile interrogations, and without an unambiguous, unequivocal invocation of the juvenile’s statutory rights, officers have no duty to ask clarifying questions or cease questioning. Here, the defendant simply asked to call his mother and gave no indication that he wanted her present for his interrogation. Therefore, defendant’s statutory rights were not violated. Because the Court of Appeals erroneously determined that defendant’s rights were violated, it did not consider whether defendant knowingly, willingly, and understandingly waived his rights, as required by G.S. 7B-2101(d) for defendant’s confession to be admissible. Therefore, the case was remanded to the Court of Appeals to consider the validity of defendant’s waiver.

Dissenting Opinion: In her dissent, Justice Beasley found that the juvenile’s request to call his mother was an unambiguous invocation of his statutory right to have a parent present during custodial interrogation. Assuming the request was ambiguous, she agreed with the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that officers must ask clarifying questions when a juvenile is attempting to invoke his or her rights, noting that children are more vulnerable during interactions with the police due to their immaturity and inability to fully understand their rights. Her dissent also emphasized that the legislature attempted to afford juveniles greater protection in G.S. 7B-2101(a)(3) than the rights afforded by Miranda, and thus, Miranda precedent should not control the analysis related to a juvenile’s right to have a parent present.

Motions to Suppress
Custodial Interrogation
Assertion of Rights
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