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California Appellate Court Upholds Confession in Child Abuse Case


In a California criminal case involving the death of a six-month-old baby, a court held that the father’s confession to the baby’s mother could be admitted. According to the court’s opinion, the father was watching his six-month-old daughter by himself one day, and called her mother to tell her that the baby was not breathing. When her mother arrived, she was cold to the touch, and no one could resuscitate her. The baby died, and an exam later showed bruises, rib fractures, and a punctured lung, among other injuries.

The father later accompanied the police to the police station. He was read his Miranda rights and agreed to speak with officers in an interview room. He told the officers that the baby stopped breathing while she was laying in her crib. After the officers asked if the defendant would take a polygraph test, he asked if he could have an attorney, and repeated his request for an attorney four more times. The officers then arrested the father.

Several hours later, the police allowed the father to meet with the baby’s mother in an interview room. An officer told the mother that she might be able to get a “full explanation” of what happened” because she “[had] a right to know.” The conversation between the two was recorded. The father first gave the mother the same explanation that he had given police. An officer then came in the room and said that the autopsy showed that the baby did not suffocate, and that she was beaten to death. The officer told the parents that they both could go to jail for child neglect, and that this would be the last time they could talk to each other in person.

The officer then took the mother outside and told her that the defendant refused to take a polygraph test and brought the mother back to the interview room, which he did to “stimulate conversation.” Soon after, the father told the mother that he “did it,” and that he hit her and killed their “little baby.” The father moved to exclude the confession, arguing that it was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights. After a trial, the father was convicted of second-degree murder and assault on a child causing death. On appeal, he argued that his confession should have been suppressed.

Miranda Rights

The Miranda rule requires that defendants be advised of certain rights in order for the defendant’s statement to be admitted at trial against the defendant. The defendant must be advised of:

  • the right to remain silent;
  • that anything the defendant says may be used against him;
  • that he has the right to an attorney; and
  • that he will be provided an attorney if he cannot afford one.

The defendant must invoke his right to remain silent or his right to an attorney, and once he does, a court will only allow subsequent statements to be admitted if the defendant waives his rights, either expressly or implicitly. Importantly, Miranda rights only apply to “custodial interrogations,” which generally means that the defendant must be both in custody and “interrogated” by police.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the court held that the statement was rightfully admitted. First, the court held that although the father requested an attorney, the mother was not “interrogating” him, because the father did not know that she was acting as “an agent of the police.” Second, there was no compulsion to confess because he was speaking freely to his girlfriend.

Contact a California Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a crime, seek out an experienced, skillful California criminal defense lawyer who can evaluate your case. John W. Noonan has represented East Bay residents in juvenile and adult criminal cases for over 55 years. Attorney Noonan is a former district attorney who uses his experience to help individuals accused of crimes types of crimes, including California domestic violence and child abuse offenses. He practices solely criminal defense out of his Dublin and Manteca offices. Call us at (925) 886-4281 or contact us via our online form at any time of the day.