The Lee Arthur Hester Case and the Unfinished Business of the United States Supreme Court to Protect Juveniles During Police Interrogations

Drizin, Steven A. | January 1, 2011

1961, on the eve of the Warren Court’s “due process revolution” in the area of constitutional criminal procedure and in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, a fourteen-year-old black boy named Lee Arthur Hester was arrested and charged with raping and murdering a white teacher in Chicago. The unrepresented Hester confessed shortly after an interrogation by four police officers who accused him of the crime and told him that they had evidence linking him to the crime. He immediately recanted his confession when allowed to see his mother and an attorney. Hester’s attorneys moved to suppress his confession but a judge admitted it, and although Hester’s confession made little sense and Hester’s teacher gave him an alibi, Hester was convicted. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in 1969. In their written briefs and at oral argument, Hester’s attorneys boldly asked the Court for a per se rule excluding all confessions taken from juveniles who are unrepresented by counsel. The Court surprised the parties by dismissing the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted. This article tells the untold story of Lee Arthur Hester and his case, raises questions about Hester’s guilt, and takes the Supreme Court to task for failing to use Hester’s case to provide greater protections to juvenile suspects during police interrogations.