State v. Strickland

Decision Date08 December 1975
Citation532 S.W.2d 912
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee ex rel., Petitioner, v. Robert STRICKLAND and Dewayne Strickland, Respondents. STATE of Tennessee ex rel., Petitioner, v. Terrance LOVELACE and Otto Smith, Respondents. Terrance LOVELACE, Petitioner, v. STATE of Tennessee ex rel., Respondent. Theodore Ernest COTTON, Petitioner, v. STATE of Tennessee ex rel., Respondent.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

R. A. Ashley, Jr., Atty. Gen., Wm. C. Koch, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Nashville, for State.

Jerry H. Summers, Chattanooga, for Lovelace.

Fielding H. Atchley, Jr., Atchley, Atchley & Cox, Chattanooga, for Cotton.

Jesse O. Farr, Farr & Schulman, Chattanooga, for Strickland.


FONES, Chief Justice.

The issues in the four (4) captioned cases are identical and involve: (1) the rights of a juvenile taken into police custody for questioning; (2) compliance with the requirements of T.C.A. § 37--234 which provides for a transfer hearing in juvenile court to determine whether the juvenile should stand trial as an adult in criminal court.

The defendants, Robert and Dewayne Strickland, Terrance Lovelace, and Otto Smith were all allegedly involved in the same incident, and the facts critical to this decision are basically the same for these defendants. The defendant Theodore Cotton, was allegedly involved in a separate and distinct crime, and his factual situation is somewhat different. We are deciding all of the cases in this single opinion.

The Strickland brothers, Terrance Lovelace, Otto Smith, and Jessie Sales (not before this Court) were charged with the armed robbery of Mr. Charles McAtee and the armed robbery and rape of Mrs. Charles McAtee which occurred on February 11, 1973. At the time of the incident, Robert Strickland and Terrance Lovelace were fifteen years of age, and Dewayne Strickland and Otto Smith were sixteen years of age.

On February 12, 1973, detectives, acting on a tip from an informant, questioned the defendants at police headquarters. The youths denied involvement in the incident and each gave an account of his whereabouts on the day in question.

After further investigation, the police determined that the youths' earlier statements were not consistent, and on February 19, 1973, they were again taken to police headquarters, accompanied by their parents. Although the record is not clear, it appears that this second session of questioning lasted around fourteen (14) hours. The questioning was concluded after each boy waived his constitutional rights and gave a statement implicating himself in the incident. Only then were the youths placed under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court.

A hearing pursuant to T.C.A. § 37--234 was held in Juvenile Court to determine whether the juveniles should be transferred to the state criminal court to be tried as adults. The Juvenile Judge determined that the juvenile defendants should be tried as adults. On May 11, 1973, Mrs. McAtee died from gunshot wounds inflicted during the armed robbery and rape, and the additional charge of murder was placed against the defendants.

An appeal of this transfer to criminal court was taken pursuant to T.C.A. § 37--258, 1 where a de novo review was held in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County to determine whether the statutory requirements for transfer from Juvenile Court had been met. The Circuit Court determined that those requirements had been met, and the defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed the finding of the two lower courts and ruled that the confessions given by each of the youths on February 19, 1973, were inadmissible before the Juvenile and Circuit Courts 2 because the police had failed to comply with the requirements of T.C.A. § 37--201 et seq. Without these confessions, the Court of Appeals found there was no evidence to support the lower courts' findings that the defendants should be tried as adults.

The State, in its Petition for Certiorari, assigns as error the action of the Court of Appeals in finding that the confessions were obtained in violation of the statute. It maintains that the temporary detention of a juvenile at police headquarters for the purpose of questioning prior to taking him before the juvenile court is not a violation of T.C.A. §§ 37--215, 37--216.

The juvenile defendants bring several assignments of error, four (4) of which are discussed in this opinion: (1) three (3) days written notice of the time, place and purpose of the transfer hearing was not given to the juveniles and their parents as required by T.C.A. § 37--234(a)(3); (2) there is insufficient evidence to support the judgment of the lower courts under T.C.A. § 37--234(a) (4)(ii) that the juveniles are not amenable to treatment or rehabilitation in existing juvenile facilities; (3) the Circuit Court erred in failing to grant a jury trial; (4) T.C.A. § 37--234 is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The defendants also maintain that their arrests and confessions were obtained in violation of their constitutional rights. We do not reach this issue as our interpretation of the statute renders unnecessary any constitutional considerations.


First we consider the contention made by the State that the Court of Appeals erred in finding that the defendants' confessions were obtained in violation of T.C.A. § 37--201 et seq.

It is asserted by the State that T.C.A. § 37--215 and T.C.A. § 37--216 are not applicable to temporary investigative questioning of a juvenile at police headquarters. Those sections read in pertinent part as follows:

37--215. Custody--Release to proper party--Warrant for custody.--(a) A person taking a child into custody, shall directly with all reasonable speed:

(1) release the child to his parents, guardian or other custodian upon their promise to bring the child before the court when requested by the court, unless his detention or shelter care is warranted or required under § 37--214; or

(2) bring the child before the court or deliver him to a detention or shelter care facility designated by the court or to a medical facility if the child is believed to suffer from a serious physical condition or illness which requires prompt treatment. He shall promptly give notice thereof, together with a reason for taking the child into custody, to a parent, guardian, or other custodian and to the court. Any temporary detention or questioning of the child necessary to comply with this subsection shall conform to the procedures and conditions prescribed in this chapter and rules of court.

37--216. Place of detention.--(a) A child alleged to be delinquent or unruly may be detained only in:

(1) a licensed foster home or a home approved by the court;

(2) a facility operated by a licensed child welfare agency;

(3) a detention home or center for delinquent children which is under the direction or supervision of the court or other public authority or of a private agency approved by the court; or

(4) any other suitable place or facility designated or operated by the court. The child may be detained in a jail or other facility for the detention of adults only if other facilities in paragraph (3) above are not available, the detention is in a room separate and removed from those for adults, it appears to the satisfaction of the court that public safety and protection reasonably require detention, and it so orders.

In support of its proposition that the police may temporarily detain and question a juvenile in disregard of the above quoted statutes, the State cites as authority several cases in which similar statutes have been construed in other jurisdictions. See, e.g. State v. Smith, 32 N.J. 501, 161 A.2d 520 (1960); People v. Zepeda, 47 Ill.2d 23, 265 N.E.2d 647 (1970). The language in these cases indicates obvious concern for the hampering of police effectiveness in the investigation and questioning of juveniles, as well as concern for the protection of juveniles. The results of the decisions show that in balancing the conflicting interests involved, the courts found that the interests of the police in efficient investigation of criminal activity far outweigh any protection afforded the juvenile.

While we agree that the effectiveness and efficiency of police investigation of juveniles may be greatly hampered by the statute, and that the statute places additional burdens on the police beyond the mandates of the Constitution, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the Legislature.

The defendants maintain that the police did not comply with T.C.A. § 37-- 215(a) or T.C.A. § 37--216 which enumerate the places where a juvenile may be detained. We hold that T.C.A. § 37--216 is not applicable in the instant case as that statute does not govern temporary custodial questioning by the police, and it does not prescribe the only permissible locations at which police questioning may be accomplished.

The question of police compliance with T.C.A. § 37--215(a), however, presents a more critical question. The juveniles were not released to their parents as provided for in T.C.A. § 37--215(a)(1). They were detained and questioned by the police for a considerable length of time, possibly as long as fourteen (14) hours. Even though the parents were present, the juveniles were not free to go, and they were not in their parents' custody but in the custody of the police.

Nor does it appear the T.C.A. § 37--215[a] was complied with. This sub-section mandates the procedure the police must follow if they wish to take a juvenile into custody for questioning. The juvenile must be brought before the court, notice given that the juvenile is in custody, together with the reason for taking him into custody. The statute clearly implies that on this occasion the police may request permission of the court to temporarily detain the juvenile for questioning, and that the judge granting such permission will prescribe appropriate conditions under which the...

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