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School Interrogations

Jack Ryan

In Fare v, Michael C., 442 U.S. 707 (1979) the United States Supreme Court determined that there is no per se rule regarding a juvenile’s ability to waive their rights under the decision in Miranda. The Court ruled that a totality of the circumstances analysis determines the validity of the waiver. In assessing the totality of the circumstances, courts should consider the age, education, background and experience of the juvenile to determine whether there has been a valid waiver of the juvenile’s rights under Miranda.

Some recent cases provide guidance concerning interrogations in the school setting.

A case from the Arizona Supreme Court, In re Andre M. examined the interrogation of a juvenile at school while his mother was outside the room and not allowed in by the police. In re Andre M., slip op. No. CV-03-0228 PR (Arizona Supreme Ct. 2004).

On February 6,2002 , sixteen and a half-year old Andre M. was taken to the principal’s office after being involved in a fight. Police responded to the school and interviewed Andre. Andre’s mother also responded to the school and sat with Andre and the assistant principal while awaiting further questioning by the police.

While Andre sat with his mom and the principal, the police recovered a sawed-off shotgun that was believed to be connected to Andre. Andre’s mother was not told of the discovery, nor was she told that police intended to further question her son. She also was not told that the police intended to question Andre regarding a topic other than the fight.

At some point in the afternoon Andre’s mom had to leave the school for a period of time in order to pick up Andre’s younger sibling. "The assistant principal assured Andre’s mother that if she did not return in time to be present during police questioning, either the assistant principal or another administrator would sit in on the interview. That information, regarding Andre’s mother’s request, was never relayed to the police.

When Andre’s mother returned to the school twenty minutes later she found that Andre was being questioned in a closed room by three officers. Andre’s mom tried to enter but was prevented from entering by a police officer positioned outside the door. During the interview, Andre admitted to possession of the shotgun. Andre sought to have the confession suppressed arguing that he did not knowingly, intelligently or voluntarily waive his rights and he did not have his mother present during questioning.

In analyzing the voluntariness of a juvenile confession the court noted that the “greatest care must be taken to assure that the admission was voluntary, in the sense not only that it was not coerced or suggested, but also that it was not the product of ignorance of rights or of adolescent fantasy, fright or despair.”

Andre argued for a per se rule requiring the suppression of statements made under circumstances where a parent has been intentionally excluded from an interrogation. The court refused to adopt such a per se rule but concluded that the exclusion of a parent was a factor to be considered in determining under the totality of the circumstances whether the waiver was knowing and voluntary.

In analyzing the facts present here, the court considered the police conduct in excluding Andre’s mom from the interrogation as cutting against voluntariness. The court recognized that there may be some circumstances that would justify the exclusion of a parent such as a disruptive or threatening parent or where the are allegations against the parent.

The court asserted that in cases where the police fail to establish a good reason for excluding the parent from the interrogation, a strong inference arises that the police were trying to maintain a “coercive atmosphere or to discourage the juvenile from fully understanding and exercising his constitutional rights.”

The Court concluded that the police failed to establish any justification for the exclusion of Andre’s mom, thus, the confession should have been excluded.

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