Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday asking it to step into the legal debate over whether students must be informed of their constitutional rights before being questioned during an on-campus investigation of school-related activities. The answer could overturn a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling granting students the right to be Mirandized before questioning by school officials if a resource officer is present.
The issue arose in 2008, NKy.com backgrounds, when an assistance principal at Nelson County High School in Bardstown found an empty prescription pill bottle for hydrocodone, a derivative of opium used to treat pain, with the name of N.C. on it on the boy’s bathroom floor. After a short investigation, a student, identified in court records only as N.C., was taken from class to the principal’s office and interviewed behind closed doors.
After being told about the empty bottle’s having been found, N.C. admitted to having given two pills to a friend who recently had wisdom teeth pulled, whereupon he was told he was subject to school discipline. A school resource officer then informed him he would also be charged criminally. N.C. was later expelled from school and, because he had turned 18 prior to sentencing in 2010, was sentenced to 45 days in jail, 30 hours of community service, and an additional 27 hours of community service in lieu of court costs. Sentence was stayed pending an appeal in the case.
The trial court concluded that “the presence of a school resource officer and the prospect of criminal charges meant the student should have been informed of his rights,” and, upon reaching the Kentucky Supreme Court in April, Justice Mary Noble wrote that “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, of that he was even admitting criminal responsibility under these circumstances… If he had been an adult under these same circumstances, there is no question that the statements would not have been admissible under Miranda.”
( Decision )
“The ruling, issued by a deeply divided court, sets a bright-line rule for school officials pursuing both disciplinary action and possible criminal charges on school grounds,” the article said, with Attorney General Conway urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case because state appellate courts are divided over this issue. States that hold Miranda warnings are required include Georgia, North Carolina, and now Kentucky. States that hold Miranda warnings are not required include South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, New York, New Mexico, and Louisiana.”
In a somewhat similar Franklin County, Ohio case this past February, though not in a school setting, the appeals court there held that the subject juvenile “did not have the benefit of consulting with either his mother or an attorney about giving up his constitutional right to remain silent. He was 16 years old with a 9th grade education. He was situated in an environment which the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized as coercive for an adult. See Miranda. Although a juvenile can give an incriminating statement without consulting with a parent or an attorney, the access to a trusted adult or attorney is a factor which can be considered in assessing voluntariness… Given the facts of this case, the juvenile court could reasonably find that (subject) did not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily give up his right to remain silent. Therefore, the juvenile court correctly suppressed statements made as evidence. “