United States Supreme Court to Review In re J.D.B.

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I blogged here about In re J.D.B., a juvenile case in which the North Carolina Supreme Court held that a 13-year-old, questioned in an unlocked school conference room by police officers and an assistant principal about the student’s role in several residential break-ins, was not in custody for Miranda purposes. The court stated that “[f]or a student in the school setting to be deemed in custody, law enforcement must subject the student to restraint on freedom of movement that goes well beyond the limitations that are characteristic of the school environment in general.” It found no such additional restraint. Nor did the court accept the juvenile’s argument that his youth and the fact that he was a special education student were relevant to whether or not he was in custody. it “decline[d] to extend the test for custody to include consideration of [personal characteristics, such as] the age and academic standing of an individual subjected to questioning by police.”

It’s a fascinating case that divided the state supreme court and the court of appeals. According to this order, entered yesterday, the United States Supreme Court is going to review it. The question presented in the petition for certiorari is as follows:

WHETHER A COURT MAY CONSIDER A JUVENILE’S AGE IN A MIRANDA CUSTODY ANALYSIS IN EVALUATING THE TOTALITY OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND DETERMINING WHETHER A REASONABLE PERSON IN THE JUVENILE’S POSITION WOULD HAVE FELT HE OR SHE WAS NOT FREE TO TERMINATE POLICE QUESTIONING AND LEAVE?

In an interesting coincidence, the court of appeals just decided In re K.D.L., another juvenile Miranda case with similar facts. The court properly acknowledged In re J.D.B., though it characterized the relevance of personal characteristics to the custody inquiry as the subject of a “split of authority,” and distinguished In re J.D.B. in a way that might be read as expressing polite skepticism about some of the conclusions reached in that case. Stay tuned for further developments.

2 comments on “United States Supreme Court to Review In re J.D.B.

  1. I’m glad to see the Supreme Court taking this kind of a case. I just wish the issue was broader.

    The problem with police interrogation of students at school is not just their age or mental/emotional maturity level. School is, by its nature, a coercive environment designed to elicit compliance and submission to authority. School attendance and submission to authority are compulsory. Students are never free to leave, not cooperate, or terminate an interaction with an authority figure. Moreover, students are indoctrinated into that system for years. I don’t think it can ever be said that any given student being interrogated by police and staff at school would likely feel free to terminate the interaction.

    If we’re really interested in ensuring that these statements, made by school children during interrogations pursuant to criminal investigations, were knowingly and voluntarily given, then we should require that they have an advocate present who is not subject to those coercive forces; for example, a parent or guardian.

    This is not an outlandish proposition. In my three years in juvenile court I regularly heard loud complaints from parents who were shocked to hear that their child was questioned by police without their knowledge or any opportunity to be present.

  2. I agree entirely with the views of Peter Zellmer.
    Shouldn’t all students, or should I say minors, have a guardian / parent present during interrogation?

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