Runner-Up Best Oralist
Michael Thompson, Petitioner v. East Dakota, Respondent
(Full Transcript of Record)
In Fall 2007, Reginald Cousins died from smoke inhalation in a fire in a Springfield row house. Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was arson. Footage from a nearby police camera showed a teenage boy running from the scene shortly after the fire started. Following this lead, Officer Stabler arrived at Springfield Middle School a few days after the fire. There, a guidance counselor identified the boy in a still image taken from the camera footage as Michael Thompson, a 13-year-old student at the school. Thompson had a history of playing with fire.
Upon the request of the school’s assistant principal, Thompson met with Officer Stabler, the assistant principal, and the guidance counselor. The meeting took place after school and Officer Stabler told Thompson expressly that Thompson was free to leave. Nonetheless, Thompson agreed to stay. Officer Stabler explained why he was there, telling Thompson about Cousins’s death and the camera footage showing Thompson in the area. Thompson confessed to setting the fire and was promptly arrested.
Thompson was tried as an adult on charges of arson and felony murder, which is classified as second degree murder under East Dakota law. Before trial, Thompson moved to suppress his confession on the grounds that he had not been read his Miranda rights before questioning. Thompson argued that the totality of the circumstances, including Thompson’s age, established that he was in custody when Officer Stabler questioned him. The trial court denied the motion, accepting the state’s argument that Thompson had never been in custody and that age was irrelevant in determining whether custody exists for Miranda purposes.
At trial, Thompson requested a jury instruction that convictions on arson and felony murder required unanimous jury verdicts. The trial judge denied this request. By a vote of ten to two, the jury found Thompson guilty of both arson and felony murder. Thompson was sentenced to thirty years in prison. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the convictions in an unreported per curiam opinion.
1) Whether a court may consider a juvenile's age in a Miranda custody analysis in evaluating the totality of the circumstances and determining whether a reasonable person in the juvenile's position would have felt he or she was not free to terminate police questioning.
2) Whether the Sixth Amendment, as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, requires a unanimous jury verdict to convict a person of a crime.