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YARBOROUGH, WARDEN v. ALVARADO - 541 U.S. 652 (2004)



No. 02-1684. Argued March 1, 2004--Decided June 1, 2004

Respondent Alvarado helped Paul Soto try to steal a truck, leading to the death of the truck's owner. Alvarado was called in for an interview with Los Angeles detective Comstock. Alvarado was 17 years old at the time, and his parents brought him to the station and waited in the lobby during the interview. Comstock took Alvarado to a small room where only the two of them were present. The interview lasted about two hours, and Alvarado was not given a warning under Miranda v. Arizona, 334 U. S. 436. Although he at first denied being present at the shooting, Alvarado slowly began to change his story, finally admitting that he had helped Soto try to steal the victim's truck and to hide the gun after the murder. Comstock twice asked Alvarado if he needed a break and, when the interview was over, returned him to his parents, who drove him home. After California charged Alvarado with murder and attempted robbery, the trial court denied his motion to suppress his interview statements on Miranda grounds. In affirming Alvarado's conviction, the District Court of Appeal (hereinafter state court) ruled that a Miranda warning was not required because Alvarado had not been in custody during the interview under the test articulated in Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U. S. 99, 112, which requires a court to consider the circumstances surrounding the interrogation and then determine whether a reasonable person would have felt at liberty to leave. The Federal District Court agreed with the state court on habeas review, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the state court erred in failing to account for Alvarado's youth and inexperience when evaluating whether a reasonable person in his position would have felt free to leave the interview. Noting that this Court has considered a suspect's juvenile status in other criminal law contexts, see, e.g., Haley v. Ohio, 332 U. S. 596, 599, the Court of Appeals held that the state court's error warranted habeas relief under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) because it "resulted in a decision that ... involved an unreasonable application of ... clearly established Federal law, as determined by [this] Court," 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1).

Held: The state court considered the proper factors and reached a reasonable conclusion that Alvarado was not in custody for Miranda purposes during his police interview. Pp. 7-15.

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