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Court lets stand a ruling that a 10-year-old can validly waive Miranda rights

Court lets stand a ruling that a 10-year-old can validly waive Miranda rights
Jeff Hall holds a neo-Nazi flag while standing at Sycamore Highlands Park near his home in Riverside in 2010.  His 10-year-old son was later convicted of killing Hall. (Sandy Huffaker / Associated Press)

The California Supreme Court refused Friday to review the conviction of a Riverside County boy who at age 10 killed his neo-Nazi father, letting stand a ruling that said someone that young can knowingly waive their legal right to remain silent.

The court, meeting in closed session, voted 4 to 3 against hearing the case, with the three justices appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown dissenting, according to an order issued Friday.

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The boy, identified as Joseph H., shot and killed his father while the man was sleeping on the couch. There was evidence that the father, a drug addict, had repeatedly physically abused the boy and his stepmother and had threatened to burn down their home with the family inside.

Court records said Joseph was of low-average intelligence, suffered from attention deficit disorder, had been exposed to many illicit drugs when his mother was pregnant and had been kicked out of several schools for violent behavior.

The issue before the court was whether Joseph validly waived his Miranda rights when he confessed to police. Two lower courts upheld the waiver.

Justice Goodwin H. Liu, in a dissent, noted that Joseph was one of 613 California children under the age of 12 arrested for felonies in 2011.

"This case raises an important legal issue that likely affects hundreds of children each year: whether and, if so, how the concept of a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent Miranda waiver can be meaningfully applied to a child as young as 10 years old," Liu wrote.

California courts commonly decide that youngsters 15 and older are capable of knowingly waiving their rights, and one California court has upheld a waiver by a 12-year-old, Liu said. Joseph's case was the first in which an appeals court upheld a waiver given by a 10-year-old.

Liu, who reviewed the transcript and video of the police interview with Joseph, said the court should have taken the case to determine whether there is an age below which a minor is incapable of understanding his or he legal rights.

"Our Legislature may wish to take up this issue in light of this court's decision not to do so here," Liu wrote, joined by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar.

Justice Leondra R. Kruger also wanted to review the case but did not sign Liu's dissent.

Joseph was found guilty of second-degree murder for shooting Jeff Hall, his father and a West Coast leader of a neo-Nazi organization known as the National Socialist Movement.

The boy was sentenced to a maximum 40 years to life, but because of his age, must be released when he turns 23. He will be eligible for parole when he turns 20.

Twitter:  @mauradolan

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