Supreme Court case will not affect local schools

A U.S. Supreme Court case argued this week could affect how schoolchildren across the country are questioned for crimes.

But not in Richmond County schools.

The case in question is J.D.B. v. North Carolina and centers on a 13-year-old questioned in connection with a rash of Chapel Hill burglaries in 2005.

At issue is whether a person's age should factor into an officer's decision to read Miranda rights. Typically, that only applies when someone is in custody, or believes they are in custody.

For instance, if you invite an officer into your home, sit him on the couch and confess to a crime, the onus is on you. But if an officer sits you in his office, with another officer blocking the door, it's more of a "custodial" interview.

If it's only an informational interview, such as investigators questioning witnesses, there's no need for Miranda warnings. But if statements indicate the witness is a suspect, the officer gives advance warning that anything said in the interview could be used in a criminal case.

The dynamic changes at school, as with the Supreme Court case.

Once children step onto campus, are they considered in perpetual custody? Are they really free to leave at any time during questioning?

Chief Patrick Clayton with Richmond County Board of Education police said that regardless of the court's decision, not much will change here. That's because Board of Education police are already conscientious about reading rights to schoolchildren in custody, Clayton said.

The police department's standard operating procedures specifically address custodial interrogations and state:

"Officers shall consider the age of the child, the child's capacity to understand the warnings, and the child's level of understanding of what waiving their right to counsel and to remain silent means before reading a child their rights and conducting an interrogation."

The policy continues to say that if ample warning has been given and/or the child is mature enough to understand, the questioning can continue.

Clayton said the policy is more sensitive to Miranda rights than the average municipal police department's "just because we are dealing with children."

On the Web:

http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/j-d-b-v-north-carolina/

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