Important Miranda case involving schools: N.C. v. Kentucky, No. 2011-SC-000271 (Ky. Apr. 25, 2013)

4 Sep

Moi wrote in Inappropriate discipline: The first step on the road to education failure:
Joan Gausted of the University of Oregon has an excellent article in Eric Digest 78, School Discipline

School discipline has two main goals: (1) ensure the safety of staff and students, and (2) create an environment conducive to learning. Serious student misconduct involving violent or criminal behavior defeats these goals and often makes headlines in the process. However, the commonest discipline problems involve noncriminal student behavior (Moles 1989).

The issue for schools is how to maintain order, yet deal with noncriminal student behavior and keep children in school.

Alan Schwartz has a provocative article in the New York Times about a longitudinal study of discipline conducted in Texas. In School Discipline Study Raises Fresh Questions Schwartz reports:

Raising new questions about the effectiveness of school discipline, a report scheduled for release on Tuesday found that 31 percent of Texas students were suspended off campus or expelled at least once during their years in middle and high school — at an average of almost four times apiece.

Donna St. George has written a Washington Post article which elaborates on the Texas study.

In the article, Study shows wide varieties in discipline methods among very similar schools, St. George reports:

The report, released Tuesday, challenges a common misperception that the only way schools can manage behavior is through suspension, said Michael D. Thompson, a co-author of the report, done by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. “The bottom line is that schools can get different outcomes with very similar student bodies,” he said. “School administrators and school superintendents and teachers can have a dramatic impact….”
The results showed that suspension or expulsion greatly increased a student’s risk of being held back a grade, dropping out or landing in the juvenile justice system. Such ideas have been probed in other research, but not with such a large population and across a lengthy period, experts said.

Family First Aid has a good discussion about the types of behavior problems that result in suspension or expulsion. Dore Francis has a guide, which lists what parents should do if their child is suspended. The guide gives detailed instructions to these steps and other steps. Francis also lists what questions to ask after meeting with school officials. Schools must balance the need for control and order with appropriate discipline.

Mark Walsh reported in the Education Week article, ‘Miranda’ Warning Needed in School Drug Case, Court Rules:

A high school student’s statements to an assistant principal about giving prescription pills to other students had to be suppressed in a criminal proceeding because the student had not been given a Miranda warning, Kentucky’s highest court has ruled.
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the student was in custody when he was questioned by the assistant principal in the presence of a sheriff’s deputy who served as the school resource officer. Thus, he should have been given the familiar warnings from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona about the right to remain silent, the right to counsel, and that any statements he made could be used against him.
The student, a juvenile identified in court papers as N.C., made several incriminating statements to the assistant principal about possessing hydrocodone pills and giving two of them to another student. “I did something stupid,” the student said.
The assistant principal explained that the student had violated school rules and would be disciplined. (He was eventually expelled.)
The school resource officer, meanwhile, told N.C. that he had also violated state drug laws and would be charged in juvenile court. The student was charged with felony possession and dispensing of a controlled substance. After a juvenile trial court refused to suppress his statements, N.C. entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
The student’s appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court argued that the admission of his statements to the assistant principal violated his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. In its April 25 decision in N.C. v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, the state high court agreed.
The court said that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in J.D.B. v. North Carolina, in which the justices ruled that a suspect’s youth was an important factor in weighing whether he was in custody for purposes of delivering a Miranda warning, it was clear that N.C. was in custody when he was questioned about the pills. He was pulled from class by the SRO, who was present during the assistant principal’s questioning. The student had no reason to believe he was free to leave. However, he was under the impression that he was only facing school discipline, and not that his statements might be used against him in a criminal proceeding, the court noted.
“No reasonable student, even the vast majority of 17-year-olds, would have believed that he was at liberty to remain silent, or to leave, or that he was even admitting to criminal responsibility under these circumstances,” Justice Mary C. Noble wrote for the majority.
The court was troubled by the fact that the assistant principal and school resource officer had worked in “tandem” before in questioning students. “Clearly, the assistant principal and the officer had a loose routine they followed for questioning students when there was suspected criminal activity,” the court said.
The court also expressed concern that the adoption of zero-tolerance policies for student possession of drugs and other contraband was leading to “a dramatic shift away from traditional in-school discipline towards greater reliance on juvenile justice interventions.”
“To the extent that school safety is involved, school officials must be able to question students to avoid potential harm to that student and other students and school personnel,” Noble said. “But when that questioning is done in the presence of law enforcement, for the additional purpose of obtaining evidence against the student to use in placing a criminal charge, the student’s personal rights must be recognized.”
“A proper balance is struck,” Noble added, “if school officials may question freely for school discipline and safety purposes, but any statement obtained may not be used against a student as a basis for a criminal charge when law enforcement is involved or if the principal is working in concert with law enforcement in obtaining incriminating statements, unless the student is given the Miranda warnings and makes a knowing, voluntary statement after the warnings have been given.”
A concurring justice stressed the availability of the “public safety exception” to the Miranda requirement, a lesson many in the country have learned in the last week in the case of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber. Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson noted a 2007 Massachusetts state court ruling that the public safety exception applied in a case in which a 13-year-old found in possession of bullets was questioned about whether he had a gun without being given a Miranda warning.
Writing in dissent, Justice Bill Cunningham said the majority’s decision will tie the hands of school administrators. He said students “are always in custody” when they are in public schools and that school resource officers are more like school personnel than traditional police officers.
“In this day and age, we should not be impairing school safety by the enlargement of rights of the students,” Cunningham said.
In a separate dissent, Justice Daniel J. Venters said he did not think the “exclusionary rule,” in which evidence obtained in violation of a suspect’s rights may not be admitted in court, should apply to most juvenile proceedings.

Here is the case brief from Legal Clips:

Kentucky Supreme Court rules student was entitled to Miranda warnings before questioning by assistant principal in the presence of school resource officer
N.C. v. Kentucky, No. 2011-SC-000271 (Ky. Apr. 25, 2013)
Abstract: The Kentucky Supreme Court, in a 4-3 split, rules that a high school student, who was detained in the school office for questioning by an assistant principal regarding giving prescription drugs to a classmate in the presence of a school resource officer, was entitled to Miranda warnings before the school official began the questioning. The court’s majority held “that any incriminating statements elicited under the circumstances of this case, with a school official working with the police on a case involving a criminal offense, the police failing to give Miranda warnings, and the juvenile being in custody, are subject to suppression under the Unified Juvenile Code and the Fifth Amendment.” It concluded that the student was in custody at the time of questioning and any statements made must be suppressed.
Facts: Issues: A teacher at Nelson County High School (NCHS) found an empty prescription pill bottle for hydrocodone with student N.C.’s name on it on the floor in the boy’s bathroom. An investigation was conducted before N.C. was questioned. Assistant Principal Michael Glass, having ascertained that N.C. had given some pills to a classmate, went with Steven D. Campbell, a Nelson County deputy sheriff assigned to NCHS as the School Resource Officer (SRO), to remove N.C. from class for questioning.
N.C. was taken to a room in the school office where he was subjected to closed door questioning by Glass in the presence of the SRO. After Glass informed N.C. that he had recovered the bottle, N.C. admitted to having given two of the pills to a classmate. N.C. explained that the medication had been prescribed after he had his wisdom teeth removed.
A.P. Glass told N.C. that he was subject to school discipline (in fact he was subsequently expelled). He then left to check on the other student while the SRO told N.C. that he would be charged with a crime and explained the criminal consequences. N.C. was charged with possessing and dispensing a controlled substance, a Class D felony, in a juvenile petition.
The SRO testified that he was present throughout the questioning, and participated in the discussion. He was either wearing his uniform or a shirt that said “Sheriff’s Office,” and was armed with a gun. He was assigned to the high school from the sheriff’s office, and had been there daily for the last four years. It was the SRO’s decision to file charges against N.C. At no time did the SRO tell N.C. that he was free to leave or give him any version of the Miranda warnings, though the officer obviously understood that the hydrocodone was a scheduled narcotic, as evidenced by the charges he filed in juvenile court. The charges read that N.C. “has admitted to the affiant to giving two (2) of his prescription pills (Hydrocodone, Schedule II drug for pain relief) to another student at Nelson County High School.”
The assistant principal testified that he knew how the SRO operated in criminal investigations, since this was not their “first go around” interrogating juveniles together. Clearly, the assistant principal and the officer had a loose routine they followed for questioning students when there was suspected criminal activity.
N.C. filed a motion to suppress the statements he made to A.P. Glass. The juvenile court denied N.C.’s motion to suppress. N.C. entered a conditional guilty plea to the charge, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion. He appealed to the Nelson Circuit Court, which affirmed the lower court decision. A motion for discretionary review was filed at the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which denied review. In February 2012, the Kentucky Supreme Court granted review.
Ruling/Rationale: A four justice majority of the Kentucky Supreme Court framed the issue as “whether a student is entitled to the benefit of the Miranda warnings before being questioned by a school official in conjunction with a law enforcement officer, the SRO, when he is subject to criminal charges.” The majority held that the statements N.C. made to the assistant principal should be suppressed under the Kentucky Unified Juvenile Code and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In addition to the majority opinion, there was one concurring opinion and two dissenting opinions.
According to the majority, the question “presents a nexus between the rights of a juvenile accused of a crime and the needs of school officials to maintain order in the schools and protection for the other children in their care on the school premises or during school activities.” Beginning with a discussion of whether Miranda applies, it looked to the two-part threshold that must be satisfied before the warnings are required. The two-step threshold requires both questioning by law enforcement and being held in custody.
The majority noted that when it is the police or other law enforcement officer who is doing the questioning, the first threshold is obviously met. Further, it pointed out that since Miranda, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that in some situations persons who are not law enforcement will be treated as such for Miranda purposes. The Supreme Court has noted that the law enforcement requirement in Miranda may be contextual. Kentucky followed this line of reasoning in Buster v. Commonwealth, 364 S.W.3d 157 (Ky. 2012), where the Kentucky Supreme Court held that a non-law enforcement person was acting on behalf of or in concert with police to obtain a confession and thus Miranda warnings were required. In Buster, police could not obtain a statement from a mentally challenged suspect, so they engaged a social worker, whom the suspect knew well and trusted, to question the suspect and turn the information over to police. This made the questioning “indistinguishable from the police investigation,” and therefore the social

The National Association of school Boards has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case as reported in the article, School Boards urge U.S. Supreme Court to review Kentucky student “Miranda” case:

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review a Kentucky state supreme court decision that would force schools to issue Miranda warnings to students when questioned by school officials in the presence of school resource officers.
NSBA and KSBA are joined by 15 other education groups, including the American Association of School Administrators and the National Association of School Resource Officers, and local educational cooperatives in an amicus brief to the high court in Commonwealth of Kentucky v. N.C. The brief maintains a recent ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court is too rigid and restricts school administrators’ ability to react quickly to dangerous situations. The ruling also mischaracterized the role of school resource officers, who perform numerous duties such as student counseling, instruction, and public safety and law enforcement functions, and it limits their abilities to keep schools secure.
“School officials must be allowed to use their professional judgment to handle student disciplinary matters and maintain safety in the unique and often complex school environment,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “School boards must be vigilant about protecting all students’ safety, and this decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court undermines their abilities.”
The case involves a student who had confessed to a school principal, with a school resource officer present, that he had given a banned substance to another student. Ignoring a lengthy list of other decisions regarding the role of school officials and the use of Miranda rights in the context of a K-12 school environment, the Kentucky high court ruled that the student was not read his Miranda rights and thus his confession could be suppressed.
It is particularly important for school administrators and school resource officers to build lines of communications with their students, who are usually their primary source of information about issues that impact school safety, such as drugs or weapons, so that they can preserve a safe school climate. By forcing school resource officers to read Miranda rights, this ruling would intimidate students and chill these important sources of information.
“School resource officers have become integral preventive safety tools in hundreds of Kentucky schools. They interact every day with administrators and students alike,” said David Baird, Interim Executive Director of KSBA. “Our members feel the court ruling unjustly drives a wedge in this process that could keep critical safety information from being shared by students with principals or security officers.”

The whole child approach is useful in keeping many children in school.

Moi wrote in The ‘whole child’ approach to education: Many children do not have a positive education experience in the education system for a variety of reasons. Many educators are advocating for the “whole child” approach to increase the number of children who have a positive experience in the education process.
In order to ensure that ALL children have a basic education, we must take a comprehensive approach to learning.

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©


Education Law Center

Discipline In Schools: What Works and What Doesn’t?


Report: Black students more likely to be suspended

Johns Hopkins study finds ‘Positive Behavior Intervention’ improves student behavior

Pre-kindergarten programs help at-risk students prepare for school

A strategy to reduce school suspensions: ‘School Wide Positive Behavior Support’

Alternative discipline: Helping disruptive children stay in school

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr.

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