J. D. B. v. North Carolina, 131 S. Ct. 2394 (2011)

Reversed and Remanded
There is a dissent.

Age should have been considered a relevant factor in determining whether a 13-year-old student who was questioned at school was in custody. The juvenile was adjudicated delinquent for felonious breaking and entering and larceny. The trial court had denied the juvenile’s suppression motion, after making findings, including that the 13-year-old juvenile, a seventh grader in special education classes, was escorted by a uniformed school resource officer (SRO) from class into a conference room to be interviewed. Present were an investigator, an assistant principal, the SRO, and an intern. The door was closed but not locked. The juvenile was not given any Miranda warnings or told that he could contact his grandmother or was free to leave. The juvenile agreed to answer questions about a recent break-in. After initial denials and further questioning, the juvenile was encouraged to “do the right thing.” He asked whether he would still be in trouble if he gave the items back. The investigator said it would help but that the matter was going to court and he might seek a secure custody order. The juvenile confessed. The investigator then told the juvenile that he did not have to answer questions and was free to leave. The juvenile continued to provide information and wrote a statement about his involvement. He was allowed to leave when the end-of-school bell rang, after being interviewed for 30 to 45 minutes. Based on these and other findings the trial court concluded that the juvenile was never in custody. Both the N.C. Court of Appeals and the N.C. Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the juvenile’s motion to suppress. Both courts emphasized the objective test for determining whether a person is in custody, i.e., “whether a reasonable person in the individual’s position would have believed himself to be in custody or deprived of his freedom of action in some significant way.” The N.C. Supreme Court declined “to extend the test for custody to include consideration of the age and academic standing of an individual subjected to questioning by police.” The U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of five to four, reversed and held that “so long as the child’s age was known to the officer at the time of police questioning, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer, its inclusion in the custody analysis is consistent with the objective nature” of the Miranda custody analysis. Justice Sotomayor, writing for the Court, said that courts can account for the fact that “a reasonable child subjected to police questioning will sometimes feel pressured to submit when a reasonable adult would feel free to go,” without changing the objective nature of the custody analysis.

Dissenting Opinion: Justice Alito – joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas – said that the Court’s decision, by injecting a personal characteristic into the Miranda analysis, “diminishes the clarity and administrability” that have been the “chief justifications” for the rule.

Motions to Suppress
Custodial Interrogation
Click on a term below for additional case summaries tagged with the same term.