The high-court’s decision in the case of Joseph Hall was “met with dismay from child advocates” who argued the boy could not have “realized the wrongfulness of his actions,” The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The appeal asking the Supreme Court to review the conviction was based on the argument that the boy, who has developmental disabilities, could not have fully understood his decision to waive his Miranda rights and answer police questions immediately after the shooting.
Child advocates and attorneys representing Hall, now 15, believe the decision “leaves unaddressed an issue that affects children interrogated by police officers,” namely whether a child can fully understand a Miranda warning and the consequences of waiving those rights, the Post reported.
The boy’s father, Jeffrey Hall, led the Southern California chapter of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) and frequently was involved in armed, militia-style patrols of the U.S.-Mexican border. He gave stiff-arm salutes at neo-Nazi rallies and exposed his son to some NSM activities, giving him a Nazi SS belt buckle, teaching him to shoot a firearm and using the family’s home as headquarters for the neo-Nazi group.
Hall, 32, was asleep on the couch of his Riverside, Calif., home on May 1, 2011, when he was shot in the head at point-blank range by the boy who had taken Jeffrey Hall’s loaded handgun from an upstairs bedroom where his stepmother, Krista McCary, was sleeping.
Media accounts at the time reported that McCary told police that Hall “hit, kicked and yelled at his son to punish him for being too loud or getting in his way,” and that Hall had also abused her and the boy’s younger sisters.
Court records say that the night before he was killed, Hall, an unemployed plumber, threatened to remove all the smoke detectors and burn down the family’s house while the family was sleeping.
Joseph Hall was convicted in 2013 of second-degree murder in the murder of his father and was sentenced to 10 years in a California juvenile facility.
His defense team petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review after the boy’s murder-conviction appeal was denied by appellate courts in California. They ruled that the boy was not coerced into talking or confessing to police.
The California courts held that, despite his youth and developmental disabilities, the child understood the wrongfulness of his actions and comprehended the consequences of waiving his Miranda rights to remain silent and speak with an attorney.
The California Attorney General’s Office, which supported those rulings, argued argued that the boy confessed to police without being asked if he pulled the trigger. The attorney general argued that issues raised in the petition to the Supreme Court “would be better addressed to state legislatures.”
The Post reported that Frank Vandervort, president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, said the California courts’ findings were “abjectly wrong” and ignored bodies of research on children’s brain development.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that police officers must consider a juvenile suspect’s age when deciding whether to use the Miranda warning. But rules vary among states. In Montana, Iowa and Connecticut, children under 16 must first consult with an attorney before being questioned by police. In Kansas, children 14 must see an attorney before police interviews. In Indiana, a legal guardian or an attorney must consent before a child waives its Miranda rights.