MIRANDA IN THE MODERN SCHOOL: THE BLURRY APPLICATION OF A BRIGHT-LINE RULE

RAELYNN CHASTAIN

J.D. 2020, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law; B.S., Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis – Indianapolis, Public Affairs, 2017.

In the modern school environment where criminal activities such as school shootings, bomb threats, sexual harassment, and drug use are not uncommon, there is a growing number of resource officers in schools. Due to the increasing police presence, the line between questioning for school disciplinary purposes and custodial interrogation that may result in criminal charges continues to blur. By default, students—most of whom are minors—pay the potentially hefty price for schools and officers’ uncertainty, because students’ individual rights and constitutional freedoms are those at risk.

One of the most prominent constitutional rights in jeopardy is the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, which the United States Supreme Court famously addressed in Miranda v. Arizona. The Court deemed Miranda warnings a necessary procedural safeguard to upholding individuals’ Fifth Amendment rights. Miranda warnings have become common practice since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, but courts across the country have widened Miranda’s scope in the decades since then—especially within schools. In recent years, the educational environment has undergone significant changes, leading more schools to employ full-time officers. Duetothemodernschoolatmosphere, it is vital for courts across the nation to address students’ Fifth Amendment rights within schools and the evidentiary and policy impacts of Miranda warnings in schools.

While recent school shootings spurred Congress to encourage schools to employ officers as guards, police presence within schools is not a new concept. In fact, the number of school resource officers has steadily risen for years. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that “42% percent of schools [already] had a resource officer on site in the 2015-2016 school year,” a 10- percent increase from the previous decade. After seventeen lives were lost in a mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, predicted another surge in the number of school officers. The increasing number of on-site police “has led to the criminalization of behavior” which school administrators previously would have addressed.

Thirteen-year-old B.A. got caught in the middle of this constitutional issue when he was removed from his bus and taken to the vice principal’s office for questioning regarding a bomb threat found on the school’s bathroom wall. The vice principal conducted the interview, while three uniformed officers hovered and encouraged B.A. to confess—but B.A. was never given a Miranda warning. After B.A. was reduced to tears, the interrogation ended, and only then was his mother called; when she arrived, B.A. admitted that he wrote the threat as a joke.

Following this un-Mirandized admission, the school resource officers arrested B.A, and the State filed a petition alleging that B.A. had “committed false reporting, a Level 6 felony if committed by an adult, and institutional criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor if committed by an adult.” At trial, B.A. moved to suppress his incriminating statements, “arguing that he was entitled to Miranda warnings . . . and that officers failed to secure a waiver of his Miranda rights under Indiana’s juvenile waiver statute.” But, “the juvenile court denied the motion and found B.A. delinquent on both counts.”

On appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the scenario in B.A. v. State required a Miranda warning, because the student was under custodial interrogation. But in its sister case, D.Z. v. State, the Court found that a Miranda warning was not necessary, because the student was not under custodial interrogation since only the assistant principal, not acting as an agent of a school officer, interviewed the student.

While the United States Supreme Court was clear in Miranda that the warning requirement hinges upon whether an individual is in custody during the time of interrogation, the parameters of what constitutes custodial interrogation within a school setting remain unclear. Seven years prior to the recent Indiana cases, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on a specific portion of the custodial interrogation analysis within schools that triggers the need for a Miranda warning—age in relation to the reasonable person standard. In J.D.B. v. North Carolina, the Court recognized an additional factor under the Miranda analysis when it held that a minor’s age may be relevant to the custodial determination. Following this decision, many states—including Indiana—have struggled to apply a clear standard when determining whether an in-school interrogation changes into a custodial interrogation. While students, juvenile or adult, do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, courts must find a way to balance students’ rights with schools’ need to discipline and maintain a safe and orderly educational environment.

This Note addresses the ambiguity in Indiana’s most recent pair of Supreme Court decisions regarding Miranda warnings in schools. Additionally, this Note considers the strengths and shortcomings of potential resolutions that seek to clarify the delicate balance between students’ Fifth Amendment rights and school officials’ and school resource officers’ ability to discipline and maintain a safe educational environment.

Part I of this Note discusses the custodial analysis with regard to in-school interrogations and addresses two reasons why a unique custodial analysis should be required: (1) the increased risk of coercion in the schoolhouse setting and (2) the need for a reasonable child objective standard. Part II analyzes the implications of Indiana’s two recent Supreme Court decisions, D.Z. v. State and B.A. v. State, which portrayed two contrasting examples of Miranda in the school setting, while still leaving room for debate on the custody determination standard. Part III of this Note compares Indiana’s rule regarding Miranda warnings in schools to practices in other states and analyzes how effective each state’s rule would be if implemented in Indiana. Part IV examines important policy considerations that judges, legislators, and school administrators must consider when implementing policies regarding Miranda warnings in schools. Finally, Part V discusses the strengths and weaknesses of six bright-line resolutions to the issue set forth in this Note and ultimately advocates for the Kentucky approach [Read entire Article here].

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