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[U] In re D.S.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 20, 2014



Appeal from the Dispositional Order of November 20, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Criminal Division at No.: CP-51-JV-0002710-2012




D.S., a minor, appeals from the October 18, 2012 dispositional order. We affirm.

The learned juvenile court summarized the pertinent factual and procedural history of this case as follows:

On October 12, 2012, D.S., a juvenile[], appeared before [the juvenile] [c]ourt charged with, inter alia, sexual assault.[] On the same day, [D.S's] cousin M.W., a juvenile[] also appeared before [this] [c]ourt charged with the same crimes. [D.S.] and [M.W.], through counsel, litigated a motion seeking suppression of statements they made to police investigators.
The charges stem from an incident in which two young boys, aged eight and ten ("complainants"), were visiting the home of [D.S. and M.W] for a sleepover. At the time of the incident [D.S.] was 15 years old and [M.W.] was 14 years old. All four boys slept in the same bedroom during the sleepover. During the night, [D.S.] and [M.W.] sexually assaulted the younger boys.
At the suppression hearing, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Philadelphia police detective Brian Meissler. On June 26, 2012, Detective Meissler was working at the Philadelphia Police Department's Special Victims' Unit ("SVU"). On that afternoon, Detective Meissler was interviewing the two complainants regarding the charges at issue in this matter. Uniformed police officers took [M.W.] into custody and brought him to the SVU where he was placed in a holding cell2 while the complainants were interviewed.
2 The holding cells at the SVU are rooms with windows and no bars.
[D.S.], however, was not taken into custody by the police – he was brought to the SVU by his aunt, who is his legal guardian. [D.S.'s] guardian is his aunt and is also the mother of [M.W.].
When [D.S.'s] guardian arrived at the SVU, Detective Meissler told her that he was investigating a sexual assault. The detective asked for permission to interview [D.S.] and told [D.S.'s] guardian that she could be present during the interview. [D.S.'s] guardian gave the detective permission to speak with [D.S.]. Detective Meissler interviewed [D.S.] in a room at the SVU. [D.S.] did not ask to speak with his guardian at any time during the interview. At the time of this interview, [D.S.] was 15 years old.
At the outset of the interview, Detective Meissler read [D.S.] his Miranda[1] rights. After hearing these rights, [D.S.] agreed to be interviewed by Detective Meissler. In addition, [D.S.] was read a series of questions which asked him if he was willing to waive his Miranda rights. [D.S.] provided written answers to those questions, and then signed the waiver form in the presence of Detective Meissler. Detective Meissler asked [D.S.] if he was able to read and write. [D.S.] advised the detective that he could read and write.

Juvenile Court Opinion ("J.C.O."), 3/5/2013, at 1-2 (citations to notes of testimony omitted).

On October 12, 2012, the Honorable Lori Dumas denied D.S.'s motion to suppress the statements that he made to Detective Meissler during the interrogation. Judge Dumas subsequently recused herself. On October 18, 2012, in an adjudicatory hearing before the Honorable Amanda Cooperman, D.S. was adjudicated delinquent of sexual assault.[2] On November 20, 2012, Judge Cooperman held a dispositional hearing, and ordered that D.S. be committed to the Mathom House.

On December 13, 2012, D.S. filed a notice of appeal. On December 18, 2012, Judge Cooperman ordered D.S. to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). D.S. timely complied. On February 11, 2012, Judge Cooperman issued an opinion pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a).[3] On March 5, 2012, Judge Dumas issued a separate 1925(a) opinion, addressing the denial of D.S.'s pre-trial motion to suppress.

D.S. raises the following issue for our review:
Did not the suppression court err in concluding that appellant made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights, where he was fifteen years old, had only one prior arrest, and was deprived of the opportunity either to consult prior to the interrogation with an interested adult who had been apprised of his constitutional rights, or to have an informed and interested adult present during the interrogation, and should not his statement have been suppressed under both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions?

Brief of D.S. at 3 (capitalization modified).

D.S. challenges the denial of his suppression motion. Our standard of review is as follows:

An appellate court may consider only the Commonwealth's evidence and so much of the evidence for the defense as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the record as a whole. Where the record supports the factual findings of the suppression court, the appellate court is bound by those facts and may reverse only if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error. It is also well settled that the appellate court is not bound by the suppression court's conclusions of law. However, [w]hether a confession is constitutionally admissible is a question of law and subject to plenary review.

In re V.C., 66 A.3d 341, 350-51 (Pa. Super. 2013) (quoting Commonwealth v. Knox, 50 A.3d 749, 746-47 (Pa. Super. 2012)).

Instantly, Judge Dumas concluded that D.S. made a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights. J.C.O., 3/15/2013, at 10; see generally Miranda, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Judge Dumas found that Detective Meissler's testimony was credible in all respects, and further opined that neither D.S. nor his guardian were credible witnesses. J.C.O., 3/15/2013, at 7. We note that, as a fundamental appellate precept, we must defer to the credibility determinations of the trial judge who had the opportunity to observe the witnesses' credibility. Commonwealth v. McCracken, 659 A.2d 541, 546 (Pa. 1995).

After careful review of the certified record, the briefs of the parties, and the legal authorities upon which the suppression court based its analysis, we conclude that Judge Dumas' findings of fact are supported by the evidence of record, and that the application of the law to those facts in all respects was proper. Consequently, we adopt Judge Dumas' well-reasoned opinion in full. A copy of that opinion is attached to this memorandum for reference.

Order affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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