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Are Juveniles Entitled To 'Miranda' Warnings At School?

The Supreme Court hears another case involving children on Wednesday. At issue is whether police are required to advise children of their rights when interrogations are conducted in school.

A 13-year-old special education student in North Carolina was pulled out of class by police, escorted to a conference room, and questioned about a string of neighborhood burglaries.

The boy's parents were never contacted, and the boy was never given a Miranda warning — the warnings routinely given by police to criminal suspects upon arrest to inform them of their constitutional rights.

A policeman questioned the boy, identified as J.D.B, for 30 to 45 minutes in the presence of another officer, the school's vice principal and an administrative intern. The other officer held up a digital camera that the investigator said was stolen from one of the homes, and the vice principal told the boy to "do the right thing."

When J.D.B asked if he would "still be in trouble" if he "got the stuff back," the police investigator responded that the case would go to court, but that giving back stolen items "would help." The police officer also told J.D.B that he would get a court order to put him in juvenile detention if he believed that the boy would continue breaking into homes.

The policeman then informed J.D.B that he did not have to speak with him and that he could get up and leave, but he added that he hoped the boy would stay and listen to what he had to say.

The boy eventually confessed to the crimes. He now seeks to have his confession suppressed because he was never read his Miranda rights.

North Carolina defends the police officers' actions, arguing that Miranda warnings are only required when a suspect is "in custody" — either a formal arrest or a restraint on the suspect's freedom of movement. And the state notes that the police told the boy he was free to go.

Police should not have to consider a suspect's age or special education status, the state contends.

Lawyers for the boy disagree. They say that age is one of the factors courts should consider in determining whether a suspect is "in custody" for purposes of the Miranda warnings because a child's age could render him "particularly susceptible to the coercive techniques of police interrogation."

A decision in this case is also expected by summer.

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Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.