In an article published by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, it was reported that a 16 year old boy stabbed his 62 year old neighbor to death and then stole $34 from her purse. The teenager is being detained at the Broward County Juvenile Assessment Center in Fort Lauderdale.
According to detectives from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the boy has already confessed to the stabbing.
As a criminal defense lawyer, my first question concerns the defendant’s mental competency. The outrageous nature of this crime suggests that the juvenile’s perception of reality is completely skewed. While details of the offense have not yet been published, defense lawyers must wonder what drove the juvenile to go to such lengths to steal a mere $34.
Ultimately, the juvenile will need to be evaluated by experts to determine if he is mentally competent. If he is not competent, he will not be able to stand trial for this offense.
The next issue in a case like this concerns the confession. Regardless of whether the teenager admitted to the crime or not, the alleged confession must have been lawfully obtained if it is to be used in trial. In order to obtain a lawful confession from a person in custody, police are obligated to advise the detainee of his or her right to remain silent and right to legal counsel before questioning. Additionally, if the juvenile suffers from any mental competency issues, his understanding of any advisement by police may have been insufficient to pass muster.
If the police failed to completely and correctly advise the teenager of his rights, any “confession” he may have given while in custody may be thrown out by the court.
These protections come from the Constitution and ensure that a person accused of a crime understands that the law does not require him or her to act as a witness against themselves. The burden of proof is always on the accuser, not the accused! They also guarantee that a person understands that their right to legal counsel before answering any questions. This rule is important because it keeps police in check by preventing them from taking advantage of person who does not understand the legal process or the criminal justice system.
Before any legal strategy may be crafted in this case, defense lawyers will need to review any and all police reports, witness statements, and other evidence. They will also need to meet with their client and possibly have him evaluated for mental competence. Once this information is obtained, a more comprehensive legal strategy may be formulated.