Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Right to jury trial vs. The Totality of the Circumstances

The Fifth Circuit tossed Tyler Edmonds' § 1983 claim last week, in which he and his mother had sued on the theory that the state coerced his confession when it separated him from his mother. (Edmonds was the 13-year-old whose adult sister convinced to share the rap when she murdered her husband—the infamous "two fingers on the trigger" case.)

Note to potential plaintiffs: don't go on the Dr. Phil show first. The opinion quotes from Edmonds' TV appearance:
A. I was coerced by my sister.
Q. By your sister, but not by the police.
A. Uh, no, not by the police.
I am mildly surprised Jim Waide took the case on those facts.

The court's holding that "[i]mproper police tactics did not implant that desire [to confess]: In all likelihood, Fulgham’s manipulation did" is a bit odd to me, given that (1) the police dragged the boy's mother away and then put him in a room with the murderer where she could and did (as the police hoped) manipulate him, and (2) that sure sounds like a jury question to my untutored brain. But, we are told, the question of coercion is ascertained "by examining the totality of the circumstances." Oh all right then.

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