Supreme Court Rules on Minor’s Rights During Interrogation in School

Supreme Court Rules on Minor’s Rights During Interrogation in School

On June 16, in a 5-4 split decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a suspect’s age must be a consideration when determining whether a minor is “in custody” and therefore entitled to Miranda warnings before being questioned by police.

Previous to this decision, the Supreme Court had determined that any person is considered in custody either when under arrest or when in a situation in which a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. However, the recent ruling states that the point of which a reasonable person may or may not feel free to leave differs between minors and adults; police officers already have greater authority over children due to a child’s dependent role in our society. Justice Sotomayer states, “A reasonable child subjected to police questioning will sometimes feel pressured to submit when a reasonable adult would feel free to go.”

J.D.B. v. North Carolina

The ruling is the result of J.D.B. v. North Carolina, in which a 13-year-old student was questioned by police at school in regards to a series of neighborhood thefts. The student, identified as J.D.B., was removed from class and taken to a conference room, where his interrogation by police was attended by the assistant principal and an administrative intern. After J.D.B. confessed to the break-in, the police officer read him his Miranda warnings.

The boy’s attorney called for his confession to be thrown out, due to the fact that it was obtained while J.D.B. was in custody, and he had not been given his Miranda rights. A trial court and the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled against him, stating that he was not in police custody during the school interrogation, so no Miranda warnings were required.

This case illustrates the complexities of what goes on during police questioning and the fact that whether a statement given to police can be used in court often depends on the facts of a particular situation. As the justices on both side of the case acknowledged, whether someone is in police custody may also relate to the age and mental functioning of the person being questioned, too. The best way to avoid this uncertainty is to politely but firmly state to a police officer questioning you that you do not want to answer any questions without an attorney present.

What Will Change?

The United States Supreme Court voted otherwise. Justice Sotomayer, who wrote the majority opinion, explained the reasoning, “A student – whose presence at school is compulsory and whose disobedience at school is a cause for disciplinary action – is in a far different position than, say, a parent volunteer on school grounds to chaperone an event.” Thus, age is the considering factor. This ruling will require police to now take age into account when they are considering whether a juvenile suspect is in custody and must be read his/her rights.

Future Criminal Cases

Dissenting Justice Alito worries this case will take the objectivity out of Miranda warnings. The purpose of Miranda rights was that they applied to everyone, and did not rely entirely on police subjectivity or possible discrimination. Justice Alito believes the new ruling could lead to a slippery slope in which police might be required to take other factors into account, such as a suspect’s intelligence level or education.

He said, “I have little doubt that today’s decision will soon be cited by defendants…for the proposition that all manner of other individual characteristics should be treated like age and taken into account in the Miranda custody calculus.”

If you were interrogated before being read your rights or if you suspect you were treated unfairly during any part of the arrest process, contact us immediately for a free consultation. We will explore the details of your situation with you and determine the best course for your case.

This entry was posted in Main. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.