Miranda Rights of Juveniles at School

Few decisions have generated as much controversy as the ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) which relied on the fifth amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination to impose limits on custodial police interrogation. Over the years the Supreme Court has made a number of revisions to the Miranda warnings. Last term, the Court placed limits on the Miranda rights in three cases: Berghuis v. Thompkins, (ruling that suspects must explicitly tell police they want to remain silent), Florida v. Powell (allowing police officers to vary the wording of the warning) and Maryland v. Shatzer (allowing a second round of questioning of a suspect who had invoked his rights where two weeks had passed since his release from custody). These rulings will change how police, lawyers and criminal suspects interact and are viewed as an attempt to limit the rights that Americans have become used to since the Court ruling in Miranda.

The Supreme Court is not likely to eliminate the requirement that police officers give suspects a Miranda warning. Jeffrey L. Fisher, co-chair of the amicus committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has stated that “It’s death by a thousand cuts. For the past 20-25 years, as the court has turned more conservative on law and order issues, it has been whittling away at Miranda and doing everything it can to ease the admissibility of confessions that police wriggle out of suspects.”

This term, the Court has another opportunity to review the Miranda holding in the case of J.D.B. v. North Carolina after it granted certiorari on November 1. The Court will be reviewing a North Carolina Supreme Court decision that courts should not consider the age of a juvenile suspect in deciding whether he is in custody for Miranda purposes. The case involves a 13-year-old, special education middle-school student whom police interrogated in a closed conference room in connection with a string of neighborhood burglaries.

The Brooklyn Law Library’s most recent New Book List includes The Miranda Ruling: Its Past, Present, and Future by Lawrence S. Wrightsman and Mary L. Pitman (Call #KF9625 .W75 2010). The book examines the state of interrogations and the state of the law before Miranda,, the purposes and nature of the decision, and proposes recommendations for reinstituting the original goals. It examines four problems with the implementation of Miranda and suggests remedies to have it achieve its original purpose.

  • The justices, in placing restrictions of the questioning of suspects, limited these rights only to those suspects who were “in custody” vague to the layperson.
  • The Miranda warnings may not be fully understood by many suspects. There is no standardization of what is said; there are literally thousands of different versions of “the” Miranda warnings in use by different police departments in the United States.
  • Police training manuals, while recognizing the right to a “Miranda warning,” have developed many ways to circumvent giving the warnings or ignoring a response in which a suspect does decide to remain silent or ask for an attorney.
  • In the 40 years since the Miranda law was established, the Supreme Court and lower courts have made decisions eroding their application.