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In re J.H.

July 12, 2007


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (No. DEL2222-01) (Hon. John Ramsey Johnson, Trial Judge).

Per curiam.

Argued April 4, 2006

Before GLICKMAN and FISHER, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

Appellant, who was twelve years old at the time, was interrogated by a police officer at his school and confessed to a sexual offense involving his three-year-old sister. No Miranda*fn2 warnings were given by the police officer. Concluding that appellant had not been in "custody," the trial court declined to suppress the confession, which constituted the primary evidence against the youth. Applying the proper standard of review to the record presented, "we cannot conclude as a matter of law that [appellant] was in custody when the police interrogated [him], i.e., that [his] freedom of action was curtailed to a degree associated with a formal arrest." Morales v. United States, 866 A.2d 67, 74 (D.C. 2005). We therefore uphold the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress. We also conclude that the confession was adequately corroborated.


One day in the fall of 2001, R.H. left her twelve-year-old son, J., and histhree-year-old sister, U., alone in the family home for several hours. Approximately thirty minutes after R.H. returned, U. told her mother, "I seen J.'s peter meat."*fn3 R.H. testified that "[she] asked her what did he do with it" and that "she said he put it in her mouth."

R.H. confronted J., who was in the bedroom across from the bathroom where U. and her mother were talking.*fn4 R.H. asked J., "what happened." R.H. testified that, "Before I could even get that out, he was like, I didn't do it, I didn't do it." R.H. returned to the bathroom, closed the door and asked U. again what had happened and received the same response. R.H. left the bathroom and found J. in the living room. She "hit him because [she] was angry at him for what he had done, for what [U.] had told [her] he had done." R.H. called the police, then left with U. and went to a neighbor's house. Before R.H. left, J. told her he would wait in the house until the police arrived. Instead, while at the neighbor's house, R.H. heard her door slam and saw J. running up the street.

He was found later that evening asleep in the hallway outside his maternal grandmother's home.*fn5

In response to R.H.'s call to the police, Investigator Henry Gerald*fn6 came to R.H.'s home and interviewed R.H. and U., who told him that J. had caused U. to suck on his penis. Investigator Gerald informed R.H. that a medical examination was standard protocol in an abuse case, and Gerald took R.H. and U. to Children's National Medical Center for an examination.

At the hospital, U. was examined by Dr. Amy Pierce, a pediatric associate, who asked U. and R.H. what had brought them to the emergency room. R.H. answered the question, telling Dr. Pierce that "U. had told [R.H.] that [U.'s] 12-year-old brother had put his penis in [U.'s] mouth." Dr. Pierce's examination of U. revealed no bruising or other physical evidence of assault, though, under the circumstances, Dr. Pierce did not expect to find any such evidence.

Approximately six weeks after this incident, Investigator Gerald, with the permission of J.'s grandmother, went to J.'s school to interview him.*fn7 Investigator Gerald was dressed in street clothes but wore his police identification on a chain around his neck. He wore a holstered gun on his right hip but demonstrated to the trial judge during his testimony that the gun would not have been visible to J. because his suit jacket and overcoat covered it.

It is not clear from the testimony how J. was summoned or brought to the room where he was interviewed.*fn8 Investigator Gerald met him in the hallway outside the principal's office, and the three individuals (J., Investigator Gerald, and the principal) walked across the hall to the large room where the interview took place. The principal quickly left without saying anything.

The interview room was large -- about the size of a Superior Court courtroom, which the court estimated would be about 30 feet by 50 feet. As the court summarized the testimony, the room looked "a little bit like a library in the sense that it had a wall of windows, some books along one wall, a lot of photographs hanging on the wall, and a very large . . . conference table in the middle of the room." The only door to the room was closed but not locked.

Investigator Gerald introduced himself as an investigator for the police department and told J. that he wanted to discuss "an incident that occurred between him and his sister." J. was not restrained in any way. For the first ten or fifteen minutes, they walked around the room, looking at the pictures and discussing sports and a variety of things. Investigator Gerald did not say anything "one way or another" about whether J. could ...

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