The recent United States Supreme Court decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina illustrates the Court’s continuing efforts to clarify when Miranda warnings are necessary. The Miranda framework requires courts to decide whether, under the circumstances of the interrogation, a reasonable person would have felt free to end the interrogation and leave. This usual framework cannot properly be applied to interrogations of suspects taking place in the K–12 school setting because a reasonable person in those circumstances would not feel free to leave even without the police presence. In this setting, where the suspect is already confined, a special rule is necessary. However, the Court in J.D.B. did not adopt such a rule because it brushed over the setting issue, focusing instead on the questions of whether and how to consider age in applying a reasonable person standard.
The Court framed the question to be decided as “whether the Miranda custody analysis includes consideration of a juvenile suspect’s age.” Acknowledging the “commonsense reality” that youth will often feel more compelled to answer a police officer’s questions than an adult in the same situation would, the Court held a suspect’s age is relevant to the custody analysis. Although Justice Alito’s vigorous dissent suggests the Court’s decision portends a dramatic expansion of the current custody determination, this Note argues that the decision to consider age is not a significant departure from prior holdings, and the Court missed the opportunity to address the need to alter the custody analysis for interrogations taking place in the school setting.
Part II first discusses the history of Miranda protections for juveniles leading up to the Court’s decision in J.D.B., then considers the relationship between the voluntariness frameworks of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and finally discusses Fourth Amendment cases in which the Court has held a special rule necessary because the suspect was confined independent of the police presence. Part III provides a brief discussion of consideration of youth in the law and argues that a special rule is needed for the Court to properly apply the custody analysis in the school setting. Finally, Part IV will speculate how cases like J.D.B. may turn out differently if trial courts apply a special rule that properly considers the setting.
Kelli L. Ceraolo,
Custody of the Confined: Consideration of the School Setting in J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 131 S. Ct. 2394 (2011),
91 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol91/iss4/6