Court says age must be considered in interrogation
Posted June 16, 2011
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court says courts must consider age when examining whether a child is in custody and must be given Miranda rights.
The high court on Thursday ruled that police and school officials were wrong when they interviewed a 13-year-old special education student from Smith Middle School about a string of break-ins in Chapel Hill.
The interview took place in a closed room at his school. The boy, identified only as J.D.B., was never read his Miranda rights, and his lawyer challenged the use of his confession.
The North Carolina Supreme Court refused to throw out the confession and said courts cannot look at age when examining whether the boy thought he could leave.
But the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 5-4 vote that courts have to consider how old the child was during the interrogation.
"To hold, as the state requests, that a child’s age is never relevant to whether a suspect has been taken into custody – and thus to ignore the very real differences between children and adults – would be to deny children the full scope of the procedural safeguards that Miranda guarantees to adults," Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his dissent that applying special circumstances to Miranda, such as someone's age, will cause the warning against self-incrimination to "lose the clarity and ease of application that has long been viewed as one of its chief justifications."
The Supreme Court sent the case back to North Carolina for a judge to determine whether J.D.B. was in custody at the time he was questioned.