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Can the police question a child at school without a parent?

Answer:

Probably, yes, the police can question a child at school without a parent present. In J.D.B. v. North Carolina, a 13 year old, seventh grade student was accused of breaking into two homes. A few days after the break-ins, a school resource officer took the student from his classroom to a conference room in the school where two police officers and two school administrators questioned him for 30 minutes. The student, incredibly, was not given his Miranda warnings, nor was he given the opportunity to call his grandmother, who was his legal guardian, nor was he told he was free to leave the room if he wished. Eventually, he confessed to the crimes he was accused of, in part because he was scared after being threatened with juvenile detention. He was told to write out a statement, which he did. He was then permitted to leave and catch his bus home. Sometime thereafter, he was charged with breaking and entering and larceny. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I represent juveniles charged with crimes.

His lawyer moved to suppress his statements and the evidence the police got as a result of his statements because he had been interrogated in a custodial setting without being given his Miranda warnings. As such, his lawyer argued, his statements were illegally obtained and not voluntary. The Court denied the motion. This case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that the child's age is a factor that should have been considered by the North Carolina Court. The Supreme Court did not, however, throw out his conviction.

Here in Florida, we have the case of D.B. v. State. With similar facts, the Florida court ruled that there was no bright line rule that would render a confession by a juvenile involuntary. Instead, the "totality of the circumstances" is to be considered by the court. What does this mean? It means that the courts need to look at a number of factors, such as:

1) "The manner in which the Miranda rights were administered, including any cajoling or trickery"

2) "The suspect's age, experience, background and intelligence"

3) "The fact that the suspect's parents were not contacted and the juvenile was not given the opportunity to consult with his or her parents before questioning'

4) "The fact that the questioning took place in the station house", and

5) "The fact that the interrogators did not secure a written waiver of Miranda at the outset"

What does this all mean? Unfortunately, it means that your minor son or daughter can be brought to an office in his or her school by the friendly school police officer, whom they have been taught to trust, to be questioned about possible criminal conduct with the school principal or vice principal present or a teacher present. And while the court will consider that a minor's parents were not present for any questioning, there is no rule that a parent needs to be present (or even contacted). And while the court will consider whether Miranda warnings were or were not given, there is no requirement that Miranda warnings be read to them.

Lesson Learned:

I recently represented a young man in middle school in Jacksonville accused of vandalizing an automobile with his friends at an apartment complex no where near school grounds. One of the boys confessed; the other did not. The boy who confessed was not read his Miranda warnings, nor were his parents contacted. It remains to be seen whether or not his case will survive a motion to suppress, but, in my experience, he will probably have to plead guilty to some criminal offense, which is a bad way to start out in life. We teach our children to trust the police and to speak to them freely. But these terrible court rulings and decisions teach us that, even where our children are concerned, the police cannot always be trusted. Instead, they will try to get a confession out of a young person in school, in a comfortable setting, without their parents present, even if the criminal offense didn't happen on school grounds. Teach your children, when questioned by the police, to say nothing; instruct them to call you right away.

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