The California Supreme Court today rejected an appeal in which a man who killed a neighbor at the age of 15 argued that investigators should have stopped questioning him when he asked for his mother.
The high court ruled unanimously in San Francisco in the case of Samuel Nelson, of Orange County.
Nelson was tried as an adult and was convicted in Orange County Superior Court of murdering a 72-year-old neighbor, Jane Thompson, during a burglary of her house on June 18, 2004. He had turned 15 two months earlier.
He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
At the end of an interview with sheriff’s investigators, Nelson confessed in a written statement that he “freaked out” during the burglary and killed Thompson by hitting her on the head with a hammer.
In an appeal, Nelson argued that the confession shouldn’t have been allowed as evidence because he had asked to talk to his mother in the middle of the interview. He contended that his request was equivalent to asking to speak to a lawyer and asserting his right to remain silent.
At the start of the interview, Nelson was told of his right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present, and voluntarily gave up that right. But he argued in the appeal that his request to talk to his mother reactivated his right and should have ended the interview.
But the state high court said today it was bound by a U.S. Supreme Court doctrine requiring that a mid-interview request has to be so clear and unambiguous that a reasonable police officer would understand it to be a request for a lawyer.
Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for the California court, said Nelson’s request to speak to his mother was “not sufficiently clear to require cessation of the interrogation.”
“Accordingly, defendant’s confessional statements were properly admitted at trial,” Baxter wrote.
The court sent the case back to a state appeals court for further proceedings.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News