27 May




Murder On a Sunday Morning

A Case Analysis for Juvenile Offenders

Kelly A. Burton

Walden University



Murder on a Sunday Morning, a documentary that points out glaring problems in our judicial system relating to juveniles accused of crimes.  This paper points out aspects of the film that pertain to forensic psychologists when working with juveniles.  Proper assessment of juveniles is crucial to the protection of them in the legal system, particularly in the areas of competency to stand trial and capability to waiver miranda rights.  This film clearly points out the travesties that can happen when the judicial system ignores the services of the forensic psychology field can offer in the areas of assessments and witness testimony.

Murder On a Sunday Morning

A Case Analysis for Juvenile Offenders

Traditionally our courts have been designed to prosecute adult offenders, Juveniles were treated differently, as they were not seen as criminals, rather misguided youths who needed adjustment.   Because juveniles were not seen in a traditional court, there were not rules or laws of juveniles rights in place, that mirrored the protection adults receive in the judicial system.  Early psychologists involvement in juvenile proceedings were there to determine if the juvenile was a delinquent and what was the root of their delinquency and was it linked to a mental illness (Grisso, 2003, p316).

In 1966, when the supreme court in Kent v. United States ruled that juveniles were entitled to certain rights the system began to change, it was the start of juvenile rights in the legal system.  Further clarity was achieved in 1967  with the supreme court case In re Gault.  As a result of In re Gault, juveniles were guaranteed the same constitutional rights as adults in the legal system.  Juvenile offenders were not longer seen ad mere delinquents, but offenders that required full legal attention, instead of interaction from a social agency like in the past (Grisso, 2003, p318).

The role of the forensic psychologist was changed as juvenile crimes were progressing into more adult like crimes.  Instead of assessing juveniles for delinquency, and mental illness, forensic psychologists were tasked with determining competency to stand trial, ability to comply or waive Miranda rights, and if a juvenile should be transferred to the adult court system, a requirement that came to light as juveniles were committing more vicious crimes and the legal system was getting tougher on crime.

This paper will cover aspects of forensic psychology as it pertains to juvenile offenders.  A case study from the documentary “Murder on a Sunday Morning”, will be examined for examples of what a forensic psychologist should look for in assessing and protecting the rights of juveniles.  Roles of the forensic psychologists will be outlined along with assessment principals that should be considered when dealing with juveniles.  The importance of third party information will be considered as we look at the case study to see its affect on the trial.  The case study utilized for this paper is rich in ethical and multicultural aspects of law that must be considered when dealing with juveniles, however in this case study they are examples of what not to do in the legal system.   The case study will show flaws in the legal system when is comes to juveniles, as there were areas of forensic psychology that were not addressed during the trial that are very important in order to protect the rights of juveniles.

Juvenile forensic assessments will be covered in some detail, types of assessments that can be utilized in juvenile court proceedings , reporting these findings to the the court and the impact that they can have on the court proceedings.

Case Study – Murder on A Sunday Afternoon

The documentary “Murder on a Sunday Morning” (2001), is the source of information for this case study.  In Florida, a elderly white female (Mrs. Stevens) is robbed at gun point by a black male youth, during the robbery she is shot and killed, witnessed by her husband (Mr. James Stevens).  The assailant of the crime is described as a skinny black male, approximately six feet in height, aged 20 to 25 years of age.  Brenton Butler, a 15 year old black male is arrested, Butler is much younger and shorter than the criminal the police are looking for.  However Butler is guilty of the crime of being black in the area of the crime scene, much like the crime of driving while black (DWB), which is utilized by the police as a pretext for making a traffic stop (Harris, 1999).  Butler is placed in a patrol car and shown to the husband, who at that time makes a positive eye witness that Butler is the man who shot and killed his wife.

Butler is taken to the police station for interrogation without his parents being present or the aid of an attorney. The police tell him that he can have an attorney and that they will work on getting him one, but never act on it and continue to question Butler.   Butler is questioned by Detective Glover, who is a large stocky intimidating individual.  Glover works on Butler, trying to get him to confess and to give the location of the pistol used in the crime.  Butler who has committed no crime and has no knowledge of any gun, is taken by Butler into a section of woods near the crime scene.  Alone in the woods with Butler, Detective physically assaults Butler, twice in the stomach and once in the face, this is documented by a medical doctor and later presented as evidence in the trial (third party information).

After Butler is not able to obtain a confession, another detective, Dwayne Darnell, is brought in to work on Butler.  Detective Darnell prepares a written confession in his words (not Butler’s), and makes Butler sign the confession.  This written confession becomes part of the evidence for the trial.

Patrick McGuinness and Ann Finnell from the public defenders office take up the case of Butler vs. the state of Florida. As the lawyers for Butler, they systematically destroy the case of the prosecution and their limited evidence produced for the trial, which mainly consist of the eye witness testimony from Mr. Stevens, the husband and the written confession that was obtained from the police after psychologically and physically torturing Butler.  They had no motive for the crime, no murder weapon, no forensic evidence, and Butler did not have any criminal past or any risk factors normally seen in criminals (Poverty, poor parenting, mental disorders, etc) (Bartol & Bartol, 2011 & Burkhead, 2006).  The jury after only 45 minutes of deliberation find Butler not guilty of the crime and he set free.  However Butler did spend six months in jail while these court proceedings happened.  Butler and his family sued for civil rights violations for the sum of 8.5 million dollars, later settling for $775,000.00, due to District Judge John H. Moore’s chastisement of Butler’s current lawyer for the case (Schoettler & Pinkham, 2002).

Butler was completely vindicated when the real criminal was caught, tried and convicted of the robbery and murder of Mrs. Stevens.

While the case was successful and Butler was set free, there are many aspects of forensic psychology that could have been a benefit to the trial, and perhaps would have freed Butler and preventing him sitting in jail for six months.  Competency to stand trial would have been a factor if assessed by a forensic psychologist.  Additionally, if Butler was given Dr Grisso’s Instruments for Assessing Understanding and Appreciation of Miranda Rights, assessment, it would have shown that Butler was not capable of understanding what waiving his rights meant, and that he was susceptible to making a false confession when under duress (Oberlander & Goldstein, 2001, as cited by (Goldstein, Condie, Kalbeitzer, Osman & Geier, 2003)

Role of a Forensic Psychologists

The role of the forensic psychologists has evolved its role in juvenile assessments.  No longer are we assessing for delinquency, instead the we must consider if the juvenile is competent to stand trial, can understand the rights under the Miranda ruling, and whether the juvenile should remain in the juvenile system or be transferred to the adult system.  Forensic psychologists who are qualified to assess these items for adults may not be qualified to assess juveniles, as there are matters of cognitive development, or lack of development to consider when assessing juveniles.

For the Butler case there are only two areas of forensic psychology that I would apply, assessment of his ability to waive his Miranda rights and his competency to stand trial.  However in this case there was a break down of the legal system, where butler was held in confinement without committing a crime and it was never disclosed why he was not allowed out on bail.  While assessing his Miranda rights waiver-ability and his competency would have helped him in his trial, the fact that he was even subjected to these actions by the police and the legal system is the larger issue.

Assessment Principles

Should there be different standards for assessing a juvenile’s competency?   Studies have shown that because juveniles have not fully development their cognitive and reasoning abilities fully, they should be assessed based on their level of maturity instead of the standards outlined in the Dusky Standard.  However this topic is still in debate as the experts cannot agree if juveniles should be tested for competency the same as adults using the Dusky standard, or should they be given different standards to do their difference age and level of cognitive development, pathology, or level of development (Ryba, Cooper & Zapf, 2003, p500).  Regardless of the standard followed, forensic psychologists must utilize assessments that accurately gauge cognitive mental abilities, level of understanding of legal and court proceedings.

One problem I see with this case, if they did conduct a competency to stand trial, and Butler was found not competent, due to his age, which is a strong factor in determining juvenile competency, would be the disposition of Butler.  Normally the person would be sent for treatment until they were competent to stand trial, often times for years.  While juveniles are normally treated for competency in an out patient method, this would still hold a court proceeding over Butler’s head for years.  This would have been a great injustice to Butler, as he never committed the crime in the first place, perhaps this is why the competency assessment was never done (Viljoen & Roesch, 2008).

One aspect of forensic psychology that can be troublesome, is the matter of who is the client.  Normally when a psychologist is assessing a person, it is for the treatment of the client. However in court proceedings, you are working in conjunction with the court to determine mental status of the person, not for a diagnosis or treatment plan.   Depending on which team you are working for could have an impact on how the final report is written and what type of assessment is conducted.  If you are working for the defense, the goal might be to keep the client in the juvenile court system where the focus is on treatment and help for the juvenile.  If you are working for the prosecution the assessment could focus on the violence potential of the client and movement to the adult court in order to focus on the punishment aspects of the law.

Third Party Information

While most of the information for a forensic psychologist analysis will come from the individual, the inclusion of third party information must be considered.  For the Butler case the public defender utilized the mother as a witness to her sons personality and habits,  which poked holes in the prosecutions case.  As an example, the primary interrogator (Glover), stated that Brandon walked up and gave him a hug when he entered the interview, and said he glad to see him. The mother refuted this as it was not normal behavior for he son to hug people that he was not familiar with.  While this information could have been given by a psychologist, or the public defender, it carried more weight with the mother presenting it to the court. (de Lestrade, 2001).

Additionally, as pointed out in the example above, sometimes we are able to obtain information from a third party that would not be available from the client. Butler in the documentary was very quite and reserved, answering questions with very short replies, this same demeanor would yield very little information to the forensic examiner to utilize in this report for the court.

A doctor testified in the court to the injuries on Butler, sustained from the police during interrogation.  As a forensic psychologists, you could report these findings to the court as third party information, however, in line with the four “C”s of testimony, you as psychologist would not be able to have a clinical knowledge of the injuries, while a medical doctor would, it would be more powerful to utilize the testimony of the doctor.  Additionally you would not be able to testify with certainty on how the injuries were obtained from Butler, while a medical doctor would.  This would have a better effect on the court proceedings and ensure allow you to adhere to the 4Cs, Clarity, Clinical Knowledge, Case Specific, and Certainty (Kwartner & Boccaccini, 2008).


The only multicultural issue in this case is the fact that Butler was the victim of racial profiling, he was a young black male in the vicinity of the crime scene. Much like Driving while Black (DWB), which is used by the police as a pretext for making a traffic stop and upheld as valid in the supreme court (Harris, 1999), the police utilized this same principle as an excuse to pick up Butler for the crime.  Butler was shorter and younger than the man the police were looking for, yet they still singled him out for scrutiny in this case.  This factor is of more use for the defense attorney, however the forensic psychologist could provide case studies showing that this form of racial profiling is occurring all over the United States.

Forensic Considerations

The rules of the juvenile court have changed and they are more in line with adult court proceedings, there are cases when juveniles who commit violent crimes are referred to an adult court for prosecution and confinement in adult prisons and jails recent changes in the rules have made it easier to send juveniles to adult court (Brannen et al., 2006). For the Butler case his age and level of crime automatically sent his into the adult court system, there was no mention if there was any assessment or procedures followed to obtain if it was necessary to send him to the adult court system.

Court Considerations

            The court in this case would have to consider the age of the defendant and its effect on the outcome of his interrogation. Butler at the age of 15, does not have the cognitive abilities of an adult. Butler was also unfamiliar with the procedures of the police in their interrogation of him, and his rights in this matter.  Juveniles such as Butler who have never been in trouble with the law would not understand their Miranda rights, and this was a point that the police took advantage of with Butler. Additionally the physical abuse of Butler from the police cannot be ignored, as there was medical testimony to support these allegations. The abuse and the signed confession, not written by Butler, but by the police and signed only after being interrogated for hours and subjected to physical violence, would have to make the court take a hard look as this confession being valid, as it was not given freely.

Forensic Assessments

Assessments in consideration of the case study that would be applicable, for Brandon Butler, would be an assessment of his competency to stand trial, ability to waive Miranda rights, transfer to adult court, and screening for any mental illness’s or deviant behavior.

Forensic Elements

The main concern for a forensic psychologist involved in this case would have to consider is the age of the offender, and that not all assessment tools are designed for juveniles. Additionally the laws are not always clear as to what rights a juvenile has concerning adult court proceedings.  It is assumed that they have the same rules as an adult, but this would also assume that they have the same cognitive processes as an adult and understanding of the court system, which is not the case when it comes to juveniles.

Because a key portion of the evidence relied on eye witness testimony, a forensic psychologist in this case would be inclined to show evidence of how eye witness testimony is not accurate, dating back to the work of Hugo Münsterberg (1908), in his book “On the Witness Stand”, where he shows that eye witness testimony is not reliable enough to be utilized in the court room.

Assessments for this Case

Evaluation of Competency to Stand Trial

Butler is standing trial in an adult court for murder, as he is being tried as an adult, the use of an adult forensic tool can be utilized.  The Evaluation of Competency to Stand Trial – Revised (ECST-R) which I found covered in a journal article titled, “What Tests are Acceptable for Use in Forensic Evaluations? A Survey of Experts” (Lally, 2003).

This evaluation covers the following scales:

▪                Factual Understanding of Courtroom Proceedings

▪                Rational Understanding of Courtroom Proceedings

▪                Consult with Counsel

And covers the following Atypical Presentation Scales:

▪                Realistic

▪                Psychotic impairment

▪                Non-psychotic impairment

▪                And combined psychotic and non-psychotic impairment

The ECST-R (Pronounced X-Ster), created and tailored to meet the criteria of the Dusky and Daubert standards.  The test was designed for adults who can understand English and have an IQ of at least 60.  The documentary never pointed out what Butler’s IQ was, but it was clear that English was his primary language and he seemed intelligent, meeting the requirement of this assessment.  This test would demonstrate is Butler would be to understand the proceedings of the police and court and with his lawyers. Additionally this exam would point out if Butler had any mental impairments, which from the film it did not seem like he did.  He was quite and reserved, but this is probably due to his young age. (Tillbrook & Sewell, 2004).  While this exam can point out any mental anomalies, it is not utilized for mental fitness testing, another exam would be used if the person had any high mental illness indicators.

While both adults and juveniles can be evaluated for competency to stand trial utilizing this exam, one must remember that factors evaluated are different.  Adults are evaluated on their mental capabilities that in most cases are fully developed, while juveniles must be looked at considering the level of maturity and cognitive development (Viljoen & Roesch, 2008).  Butler in the case study was clearly not at an adult level of development, as he was too trusting of the police, and was victim to psychological and physical abuse from the police in this case.  An adult in this case might have been more aware of their rights and chose to have a lawyer present during the interrogation.

Ability to waive Miranda rights

One exam that would have been beneficial in the Butler case is the Instruments for Assessing Understanding and Appreciation of Miranda Rights, created by Dr. Grisso.  This assessment is one that is recommended for forensic psychologists to utilized in assessing adult and juvenile capability to understand and waiver their Miranda rights in a legal situation (Oberlander & Goldstein, 2001, as cited by (Goldstein, Condie, Kalbeitzer, Osman & Geier, 2003).  Created in the 1970s and updated in 2003 to address changes in the legal systems, this assessment has one important characteristic that applies to the Butler case, the ability for a person to understand that they can stop questioning from the police and obtain a lawyer to help them (Goldstein, et al.,2003).  If Butler was assessed utilizing this examination, he would have never been subjected to his torture and would have never signed a false confession, written by the police.   The police in this case told him the would work on getting Butler an attorney, but never made it clear that he had the right to remain silent and not speak to them anymore with out the aid of an attorney. Instead they continued to pressure and bully him, and never sought out an attorney for Butler.

One of the revisions added to this exam in 2003 was a fifth instrument was added called “Perceptions of Coercion during Holding and Interrogation Process (P-CHIP)”, which by design looks at if the juveniles is likely to give false confession under cohesion from the police (Goldstein, et al.,2003).  Something that Butler did in this case, he under psychological and physical duress signed a false confession, which was written by the police as an account of the incident as they wanted to see it.

Forensic Report

The law is normally clear on what is to be included in forensic reports submitted to the courts in cases, however there are no standards for conducting a competency evaluation on a juvenile. Studies have looked at the various tests that are administered for evaluation and the areas that are rated intelligence were being the most widely utilized (Christy, Douglas, Otto & Petrila, 2004).  The study found that due to no standards in the field there were vast discrepancies in the reports.  Florida law requires the basis or predicate condition for the competency finding be included in the report, however only 62% had this information in the report given to the court (Christy, et al., 2004).  For the Butler case there is no indication of any forensic reports being requested or completed.  This case should have required a competency to stand trial evaluation and whether Butler was qualified to waive his Miranda rights as a juvenile.

Implications of the Report

If forensic reports were submitted to the court on Butler’s competency to stand trial and his ability to waive Miranda rights, the court would have to consider the age of Butler, and his inexperience with the legal system as factors to him standing trial in adult court for murder.  The assessment of his Miranda rights understanding and his bending to police pressure to sign a false confession would have been in the courts view, and used as validation to not try him in this case.

The laws in Florida, and the rest of the nation need to be amended to require that all juveniles facing court hearings, be assessed for their competency to stand trial and their understanding of the Miranda rights.  While this would slow the legal process and the police’s ability to interrogate suspects, it would ensure that juveniles are offered better protection under the law.

For the Butler case the court did not have to rely on forensic psychology assessment, as the police work was not through and they violated so many rules that the prosecutions case never had a chance.  This is not always the case and there is a strong possibility that others juveniles are prosecuted and sent to prison without having the same protections as adults in court proceedings.


The Butler case is a good example of why forensic psychologist have to be included in any court proceedings involving a juvenile.  As children, they need more different assessments than adults in these proceedings, and more protection from the legal system, as they are not fully matured.  Because the level of maturity is not that of an adult, and they are being dealt with in an adult system, they must be measures in place to ensure that they are not exploited by an adult system.

The only thing that protected Butler from a life or death sentence was the work of a public defenders office that actually cared about his client, and that the police broke so many rules and cut so many corners that they sunk the prosecutors case for them. However, not all juveniles that are convicted of crimes can rely on these on these same factors to save them. Too many times those that are represented by public defenders are not given the care that Butler received from Patrick McGuinness and Ann Finnell.


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