Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Children questioned by police in school, though not in formal custody but without doubt in a coercive setting, should be given the Miranda warning.

LA Times Editorial | http://lat.ms/guCdHI

March 29, 2011 - When a police officer says "You have the right to remain silent," the "you" is usually an adult. But what if a child suspected of wrongdoing is interrogated? That question is at the heart of a case argued before the Supreme Court last week. The issues are complex, but the bottom line is clear: Children being questioned in what they experience as a coercive environment must be read their rights.

The case involves a 13-year-old North Carolina boy who was suspected by police in two break-ins. A police department investigator questioned the boy in a school conference room, but he wasn't read his rights — not because he was a juvenile but because no suspect, regardless of age, is entitled to Miranda rights until he's in custody.

By adult standards, the boy wasn't in custody: He wasn't under arrest, the door was unlocked and at one point the police investigator told him he could leave. But common sense suggests that a 13-year-old taken to an office and faced with not only the police but also school officials, as happened in this case, won't feel free to leave or to refuse to answer their questions. And, as often with adults, a coercive environment in this case produced a confession. The boy was then adjudicated delinquent by the juvenile justice system.

The boy's lawyer asked the Supreme Court to rule that the definition of "custody" ought to change depending on the age of the suspect. A judge considering whether to admit a confession by a juvenile would examine the situation in which it was made and whether a reasonable person of the same age would feel confined and therefore pressured to answer questions.

Several justices were skeptical. Justice Antonin Scalia asked if the definition of custody should also be adjusted for the mentally handicapped and whether there should be different standards for children of different ages. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked about situations in which a child's age was unclear. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. questioned whether age is a guide to immaturity. "Some 15-year-olds," he said, "know a lot more than some 17-year-olds."

The court may someday be asked to change the rules for the interrogation of mentally disabled suspects, but it need not reach that issue in this case. As for differences in age and appearance, a clear rule — say, one that covers suspects 15 and under — would resolve most of the ambiguities.

As the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a friend-of-the-court brief, police are an increasing presence in schools, a setting where attendance is mandatory and behavior is closely regulated. For some children accused of wrongdoing, school is like a police station. Miranda warnings should be given in both places when police are questioning children.



A Fact Sheet Prepared by the Youth Law Center | http://bit.ly/gmJuLc

This fact sheet addresses the participation of parents or guardians when police, or any law enforcement officer, question their minor children at school.

Can the police question a child on campus about abuse or neglect at home without parental/guardian consent or notification?

Yes. California law specifically authorizes the police or any representative of a governmental agency investigating a report of child abuse or neglect that occurred in the child’s home or out-of-home care facility to interview the suspected child victim on campus during school hours1. The child has a right to have the interview conducted in private or to have a school staff member present during the interview. The parent has no right to notification before or after the interview.

Can the police interrogate a child on campus without parental/guardian consent or notification?

Yes. Nothing in current law requires school officials or the police to obtain parental or guardian’s consent in order to interrogate a student on campus about criminal activity.2 No notification to the parents is required even after the minor has been questioned.3 The parent or guardian may learn about the questioning only later when the child tells his or her parent or guardian what happened at school.

The police are not required to permit a parent, guardian or school official to be present while the police are questioning a student. This is true even though the child may not have a genuine understanding of his or her rights while being questioned.

Under existing law, a parent or guardian MUST be notified immediately if either of the following occur4.

• The police take the child off-campus for interrogation or questioning. The parent or guardian is entitled to be informed where the child is being taken.

• The police arrest the child at school.

Are school officials obligated to make a student available for questioning at a police officer’s request?

No, except that the school must make the child available for questioning regarding child abuse or neglect investigations as discussed above.5 However, schools are very cooperative with local law enforcement because police provide necessary protection and safety on campus through community policing grants and coordinated school safety patrols.6 Thus, the principal or school official is likely to pull the requested student from their normal school activity to meet with the officer at their request.

What can a parent or guardian do to help prevent the police from questioning a child about criminal activity at school without their consent or presence?

Parents can educate their child about what rights a student has when questioned by police on campus.

• A child can immediately ask to have a parent, or some other trusted adult, present before agreeing to talk to police. The police are not obligated to honor the student’s request, but the school might take steps to notify a parent of the interrogation if the student makes their request clearly, immediately and consistently. 7

• A child has a constitutional right to remain silent when questioned by either school officials or the police about anything including the criminal activity of the minor child, other students, their siblings or parents.8 Encourage the child to exercise that right until their parent or a trusted adult of their choosing can be present during the interrogation.

In addition, a parent or guardian can negotiate individually with their child’s school. Inform the principal that the parent/guardian wants to be notified prior to any questioning of the child, by school officials or police, on campus. While the school is not legally obligated to acquiesce to the request, officials may be more likely to work cooperatively with a parent or guardian if a specific request is made.

What can advocates do?

Advocate groups representing children, youth and parent’s rights can work together to develop school district policy limiting police accessibility to students for interrogation on campus. One challenge will be working around existing agreements schools within the district may have with local police in which police assist in maintaining public safety on campus. For this reason, advocates should develop relationships with school board members throughout the negotiation process in order to support a successful outcome.

Integral to any proposed school district policy are the following provisions:

• A requirement that the principal or school official take immediate steps to seek the consent of the parent or guardian of an elementary school student or minor high school student prior to making the student available to police for questioning.

• A prohibition against making any student available to police for questioning if the parent or guardian requests that the student not be questioned until the parent can be present.

• A requirement that, if a parent is unable to be present within a reasonable time, a member of the school administration, a school counselor or teacher is permitted to be present at the questioning. The adult should be selected by the student to ensure they are comfortable and feel safe in the questioning atmosphere.

• A requirement that the principal inform the student of their right to have an adult present during interrogation prior to making the student available to police for questioning.9

In addition, advocates can educate parents and youth about students’ rights, including the right to remain silent and to request to have a parent, trusted adult or attorney present when questioned by police on campus.


1 Cal. Penal Code §11174.3

2 Cal. Ed. Code § 48980 – §48985. Covers school notification to parents or guardians; ACLU-NC You Have the Right to...Not Remain Silent (2005). Available at: http://www.aclunc.org/youth/know_your_rights/index.shtml; In general, police do not need to obtain parental consent to interrogate a child in any situation.

3 Id.


5 Cal. Penal Code §11174.3

6 Cal. Ed. Code §§49350 - 49356 provides for grants to school districts for community policing, coordinated with local law enforcement, to ensure safe and peaceful campuses. §§49300-49307 provides for establishment of school safety patrols around campus, in which schools can execute individual agreements with local law enforcement and CHP to define parameters of police involvement in these efforts.

7 ACLU-NC You Have the Right to...Not Remain Silent (2005). Available at: http://www.aclunc.org/youth/know_your_rights/index.shtml

8 USCS Const., Amend. 4; Cal. Const., Art. I

9 These provisions were included in Assembly Bill 1012 (Steinberg, February 2003). Full text of the bill available at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/03-04/bill/asm/ab_1001-1050/ab_1012_bill_20040825_enrolled.pdf. Ultimately, AB 1012 was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger on September 30, 2004. Similar efforts have also been unsuccessful


2cents smf: California State PTA has historically advocated and supported legislation on this issue - See CAPTA support for PTA Sponsored Bill SB 660 (KUEHL - 2005). URGENT ACTION ALERT http://bit.ly/eI4UDD

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