Jacksonville police looking at juvenile interrogation policy after judge throws out statements

August 13, 2012

A ruling by a Jacksonville judge in a Jacksonville Juvenile murder case getting national attention has the Jacksonville sheriff reconsidering how his detectives interview juvenile defendants. The judge ruled last week that Cristian Fernandez did not understand he was waiving his right to an attorney during interrogations in the murder and Jacksonville sexual battery cases against him, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Fernandez, now 13, was 12 at the time of the interviews. After the ruling, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford ordered his detectives to build cases against defendant 12 years old or younger on physical and forensic evidence alone and to not rely at all on any statements made to police.

The statements were seen to be very significant pieces of evidence in both cases against Fernandez, the newspaper reported. Fernandez is charged with first-degree murder in the beating death of his 2-year-old half brother and is also charged with sexually assaulting a different 5-year-old step-brother. Jacksonville state attorneys will soon decide if they'll appeal the judge's ruling. If they do, it will likely delay the Duval County sexual battery trial scheduled for Sept. 6, and the murder trial also scheduled for next month. A four-day hearing in August included testimony and reports from mental health professionals who provided their opinions on whether a 12-year-old boy with no knowledge of the criminal justice system could understand the severity of waiving his rights. The recordings have not been released, but Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys have said Fernandez refused to talk nine times before eventually agreeing to speak with detectives, the newspaper reported.

It will be interesting to see if the state decides to appeal the ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal. The ruling opens up the discussion as to how old a defendant must be before they can understand the charges against them and the ramifications of talking to the police. Is it 12? 13? 14? That makes it fairly likely, from the perspective of a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney's perspective, that the state will appeal the decision. The decision is already having an impact on how Jacksonville police conduct their business, and they will likely want clear direction on how to move forward. Not to mention the affect the ruling has on the cases against Fernandez, one the state has been criticized heavily for in making Fernandez the youngest person ever to be charged with first-degree murder.

If you or a loved one needs a Violent Crimes in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Juvenile Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.