The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan yesterday granted a new trial to EJI client T.J. Tremble, who was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for murder when he was just 14 years old.
The court granted federal habeas corpus relief because the State’s case against him depended almost entirely on a statement that police illegally coerced from T.J. after keeping him handcuffed behind his back for more than 6 hours, denying him a lawyer, refusing to allow his parents to see him, and questioning him even after he twice invoked his right to remain silent.
The federal court focused on T.J.’s young age and recent United States Supreme Court precedent about the vulnerabilites of children in determining that his constitutional rights “were violated when his will was overborne by overzealous police officers, who coerced him into providing an involuntary confession.”
The court further held that a new trial is required because the prosecutor committed misconduct when he permitted police officers to testify falsely in court that T.J. never asked for a lawyer during the interrogation.
T.J. also was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel, the federal court held, because his lawyers at trial and on appeal failed to present a form on which T.J. expressly asked for a lawyer — documentary evidence that would have required the trial court to suppress T.J.’s statement.
EJI took on T.J.’s case in 2007 as part of its effort to assist 13- and 14-year-old children sentenced to die in prison.