When Should Schools Give Miranda? Virginia Case Shows Continuing Uncertainties After J.D.B. Ruling

There is an interesting case out of Fairfax County in Virginia where an eighth-grader was pulled from his class and interrogated by a police officer and school officials on this smoking pot after-school hours and off campus. The case shows the continuing uncertainty over when police officers are required to give Miranda after the Supreme Court’s decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina (below).

An assistant principal at Langston Hughes Middle School called in the student after other students said that they heard him taking about smoking pot during off-hours. The school officials called in a police officer and interrogated the student without the presence or consent of his parents. It has striking similarities to J.D.B., where a seventh-grader was interviewed by police and school officials about a residential break-in. In the majority decision, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor held that a child’s age could change the meaning of when a person is in custody — triggering the need for Miranda: “to hold… that a child’s age is never relevant to whether a suspect has been taken into custody— and thus to ignore the very real differences between children and adults— would be to deny children the full scope of the procedural safeguards that Miranda guarantees to adults.”

The problem with the opinion is that it quickly breaks down in generalities and leaves a host of questions. For example, police officers are increasingly assigned full-time to schools and are used in a myriad of disciplinary cases. As in the Virginia case, most of these investigations are not done as a criminal matter, but could ultimately prove to be a criminal matter depending on what the child says in the interview. If the intention is not to acquire evidence of a crime but to “get to the bottom” of a school incident, is Miranda still required? The assumption is that the Court would likely cut officials a fair degree of deference when this next generation of cases works back to the Court.

The protection of Miranda is not particularly significant for a child. It is likely that, even when informed of his rights, a child is likely to waive his rights in the presence of school officials and officers. The key is to have the parent present. It is astonishing to me that school officials would not insist on parents being present as a matter of simple policy. Most of these case involve no urgency. Most parents would likely still tell their child to answer truthfully and fully. Yet, school officials are facilitating a highly coercive environment by using their offices as an interrogation room with police officers.

These cases also show the continuing trend of school officials extending their authority to cover acts committed outside of school. I have been critical of that trend, which includes actions against both students and teachers. Schools also seem to be increasingly turning to police to handle disciplinary issues, resulting in arrests of children for acts that were once simple matters for a parent-teacher conference.

In the Virginia case, no criminal charges were brought but the school officials were unaware of what the boy might say to trigger such charges. The resistance of the school officials to the minimal protections of Miranda or presence of parents is disturbing. It shows a lack of concern of the rights of these students. While officials continue cite the well-being of students as the justification for their actions, they never seem to include a student’s rights in the overall concern for his well-being. The Sotomayor decision is likely to unleash a torrent of cases probing the line of these protections. It would be wonderful, however, if school officials would act in a more protective fashion as a simple matter of ethics as opposed to constitutional law.

Here is the J.D.B. decision: 09-11121

Source: Washington Post

Jonathan Turley

18 thoughts on “When Should Schools Give Miranda? Virginia Case Shows Continuing Uncertainties After J.D.B. Ruling”

  1. My father took mespo’s approach – sort of – by his directions to me, rather than to the school.

    When I was in middle school, the gym teacher would paddle the last student “suited up,” even if they were ready within the alloted 10 minutes. Corporal punishment was illegal. My father told me never to submit to a paddling and to not talk without insisting he be called.

    Eventually, it was my day to be be last ready. The gym teacher told me to “assume the position.” I said “No.” He smirked “No?” With a wavering voice, I announced to the class that our state didn’t allow physical punishment, and my father would have the teacher prosecuted if I were paddled.

    The coach lifted me off the floor by one arm, dragged me to the principal’s office, and threw me into a chair. He told the principal that I was “giving lip” to him. The principal talked to me in a manner that conveyed seeking an apology, rather than seeking facts. I told him I wouldn’t discuss anything until my father was present. He kept calling me argumentative. It was very intimidating. The principal dismissed the coach and kept “interviewing” me. Again, he said, “You’re being argumentative with me!”

    I replied, “No sir, I’m trying to leave that to my dad.” After I sat several hours in the principal’s office, I was allowed to call my father at work. When he arrived to see the principal, he’d already filed a police report and spoken to the county’s prosecutor. The coach was arrested and spent two weeks making bail. A very white-faced principal then learned from my father what “argumentative” really meant.

    I got a C in gym but didn’t have to go for the rest of the year. The coach was suspended by the School Board. (His replacement retired the paddle.) When Coach stood trial, the judge told my father, “I’m sure you’re not seeking a pound of flesh,” before finding the coach guilty of assault (misdemeanor), rather than battery (felony), and then sentencing him to the two weeks he’d spent in jail.

    Nerds congratulated me. Jocks would pass me in the hall, punch my arm, and snarl, “That’s for Coach.”

    Next year, Coach returned as Assistant Principal. The year after I left, he became the principal.

  2. I agree with Mespo’s suggestion. The parents should be present if their child is being questioned by the police. This case is astounding to me since the alleged criminal activity was not school related. The school had no business allowing the police to question a child with parental approval on a non-school matter.

  3. I am not a fan of having Police Officers, which I am naming ROPOS’ used as resource officers in schools…The only duty of the ROPO is to stem crime…How many of us would be here today without felony records if there was a ROPO around….Sometimes kids act up….somethings are better dealt with at Home, with the Teacher or the Principal….

    Children already get tagged as trouble makers from teachers a tag which lasts a school career…I know…I had one teacher that said I was nothing like the teachers notes when I went to the next grade……

    Some teachers should be able to separate there personal bias and act in a professional manner….but as we know not all people in all professions should be in that profession….

    With the current mentality of most cops…you are the bad guy….and you will be arrested….a ROPO is a cop as well and his duty is to the system….

  4. mespo great idea, Frank while I agree the child may become a target, it is critical that we have a duty to start asserting our rights as citizens and not cower to them. Free people do not cower – slave do. Also with virtually every school having a police officer in them it is wise to put them on notice that they must follow the law. I would think it should not be much to ask that our public servants follow the law

  5. mespo – why don’t you also paint a large red target on the kids too? While I agree that some administrators are out of control a letter like that would make those types of dicks assume that the kid & his parents have to be up to no good and therefore need to be watched very closely.

    Its very hard to stop a dick from acting like a dick.

  6. mespo, that is an excellent suggestion. Thanks. One of those things I wish I had thought of. All ours are grown now, but I am going to share that piece of advice with people I know who do have kids in school.

  7. Perhaps all schools should Mirandize students on the first day of each class year, thereby saving them the hassle and covering all the legal bases.

  8. I recommend that parents send a certified letter to the school principal at the beginning of the school year demanding that any investigation of their child’s conduct be held in their presence and that if criminal conduct is alleged invoking their child’s right to counsel. This simple invocation would stem the tide of “resources officers” questioning kids without lawyers being present.

  9. MN Supreme Court ruled yesterday that bringing a pocket knife to school is not a felony. I don’t recall hearing about the case originally but a high school student brought a pocket knife to school & was charged with felony possession of dangerous weapon on school property.

    In a small display of sanity the higher court ruled that having a point and a sharp edge did not make it a dangerous weapon worthy of that level of charge. Meanwhile, I wonder how much his folks are out in legal fees in order to give their kid a fair start after a stupid kid mistake.

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