A recent decision from the 2nd District Court of Appeals, In Re: L.G., addressed the issue whether school officials can question a juvenile as part of a criminal investigation.
Juvenile Questioned by School’s Director of Public Safety
In 2015, a person called the Dayton Police in regards to a bomb threat at a local school. The police contacted school officials and the Dayton Public Schools’ Executive Director of Public Safety and Security, Jamie Bullens. Mr. Bullens, a retired detective with the Dayton Police Department, oversaw school resource officers who were trained as peace officers. These resource officers carried handcuffs and had the authority to arrest individuals.
After a bomb-sniffing dog swept the building and found nothing, Bullens and the Dayton Police had the children gathered into the school’s gymnasium. Bullens addressed the students, stating that a reward of $50 – $1000 was being offered for information leading to the person responsible for the bomb threat. Two individuals accused a seventh grader.
Bullens told a school resource officer to retrieve the seventh grader and bring him to the cafeteria. Bullens, with two uniformed police officers standing next to him, questioned the seventh grader. The seventh grader was not provided any Miranda warnings prior to questioning. The seventh grader confessed to calling in the bomb threat. The seventh grader was then arrested and charged with the offense of inducing panic under R.C. 2917.31(A)(1), a second degree felony.
Motion to Suppress Statements
The juvenile’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the statements made to Bullens, arguing that the questioning was not conducted with the juvenile’s consent and that he was not advised of his Miranda rights before questioning. The court granted the motion to suppress and the state appealed, arguing that the juvenile was not in custody for Miranda purposes and that Miranda does not apply because Bullens was not a law enforcement officer or acting as an agent of law enforcement when he questioned the juvenile.
Miranda Rights in Ohio
Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself. Statements resulting from a custodial interrogation are admissible only after a showing that Miranda rights were read. Because custodial interrogations are inherently coercive, police officers must warn a person, prior to questioning, that he or she has the right to remain silent and to have an attorney be present.
Custodial interrogation is defined as questioning initiated by law enforcement after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of their freedom in any significant way. The inquiry must focus on how a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have understood the situation.
In some circumstances, the child’s age would affect how a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have perceived his or her freedom to leave.
Here, the 2nd District held that the juvenile was in custody when he was questioned by Bullens. It was obvious that a police investigation was underway. All of the students were not free to leave the school. The juvenile was not questioned by school personnel whom he would have been familiar, but by Bullens who was flanked by two uniformed police officers. Thus, a reasonable person in the juvenile’s position would have believed he was in custody.
Miranda Rights, Juveniles and Agents of the State
While it is generally held that law enforcement questioning of juveniles at school is not a custodial interrogation where there is no evidence that the student was under arrest or told he is not free to leave, the situation in this case was decidedly different because no seventh grader would have felt at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.
However, Miranda warnings are not required whenever a teenage is questioned by school personnel or law enforcement. The juvenile must be subject to a custodial interrogation.
Moreover, Bullens was acting as an agent of law enforcement in questioning the juvenile. While Miranda warnings do not apply to private citizens not being directed or controlled by law enforcement, even though their efforts may aid law enforcement, those who are acting or being directed by law enforcement must provide Miranda warnings prior to questioning those under custodial interrogation.
An example of where this may occur can be found in State v. Bolan. In Bolan, a private security guard detained and questioned an individual suspected of theft. The questioned did not occur at the behest of law enforcement. The person made incriminating statements to the security guard before the police arrived. The Ohio Supreme Court held that the private security guard was not required to provide Miranda warnings prior to questioning.
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio Juvenile Attorney
If your child has been charged with a criminal offense in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Johnson Legal, LLC and speak with an experienced Columbus and Delaware, Ohio criminal defense attorney. Attorney David Johnson of Johnson Legal, LLC will discuss your child’s case and assist you in fighting the charges. Call (614) 987-0192 or send an email to schedule a consultation regarding your child’s case.