Indiana public school corporations should take note of two recent Indiana Supreme Court decisions that provide helpful guidance on when school administrators must provide a student a Miranda warning prior to questioning and on the application of Indiana’s Juvenile Waiver statute.
In B.A., a note with a bomb threat was found at a middle school, and a school resource officer (SRO) narrowed the suspects to two middle school students, one of whom was B.A. When B.A. arrived at school, he was removed from the bus and taken to an administrator’s office where at least one SRO always was between B.A. and the door. One officer required B.A. to submit a writing sample and asked B.A. to “fess up.” B.A.’s mother was not notified until after the interrogation. The court found that this was a custodial interrogation seeking to elicit an incriminating response, thus requiring a Miranda warning and notice to the parent under the Juvenile Waiver statute. That Juvenile Waiver statute only authorizes an unemancipated juvenile to waive his/her Miranda rights through counsel or a custodial parent, guardian, custodian or guardian ad litem.
In D.Z., a high school student was interrogated after sexual graffiti was found in a boys’ restroom. The administrator, without any officer present, met with D.Z. and obtained a confession from D.Z. The administrator then relayed the confession to the SRO. The SRO then met with D.Z. one-on-one and also obtained a confession. Since there was no evidence that D.Z. knew that the administrator had spoken with the officer, the court found that there was no custodial interrogation necessitating Miranda. Thus D.Z.’s confession to the administrator would be admissible in the criminal proceeding.
These decisions are important due to the ever-increasing challenge of providing a safe learning environment that includes the enlistment of school resource officers. The Indiana Supreme Court defined one bright line rule from the recent cases. When school officials (not acting as agents directed by the police) question students while not in the presence of police officers, no Miranda warnings are required.
However, if there is evidence of collusion between the administrator and the officer, Indiana courts may reach a different conclusion. The Court recognized that students are not in criminal custody while merely being questioned by a school official. However, when police officers are present in the room while the student is being questioned or if there is evidence of collusion between school officials and officers, Miranda warnings may be required to inform the student of their legal rights. Whether or not Miranda warnings are required is determined on a case-by-case basis by weighing factors such as the number of police officers present, the setting of the questioning, the length of questioning, the student’s age and the relationship between the parties. Importantly in Indiana, Miranda is not the end of analysis as the Juvenile Waiver statute also should be consulted.
Both of the Supreme Court decisions reversed and then vacated the lower Court of Appeals decision. Therefore, any reliance upon these prior decisions are no longer valid. School corporations should update policies and guidelines to comply with these new decisions. Additionally, in-service administrator training prior to school starting or immediately thereafter also is highly advisable.
The Education Law Group at Bose McKinney & Evans can help ensure your organization is informed and ready to manage labor and employment and student-related issues that may arise. Please contact your Bose McKinney & Evans education law attorney with any questions or concerns.