INDIANAPOLIS — Police officers working in Indiana schools must advise students prior to questioning them in a custody-type setting that the student has a constitutional right to remain silent and have an attorney present, and questioning cannot begin until a parent or guardian consents to their child waiving those rights.
In a first-of-its-kind ruling Wednesday by the Indiana Supreme Court, the justices unanimously agreed that students are required to be told their Miranda rights, in most non-emergency circumstances, prior to being interrogated by school resource officers or other law enforcement agents.
The high court acknowledged in its 5-0 decision that school resource officers may struggle to determine precisely when the Miranda requirement applies, since the U.S. Supreme Court has adopted a totality-of-circumstances approach instead of a bright-line rule.
But the Hoosier justices said the Miranda advisory likely must be provided if a student being questioned does not feel free to leave the room and there is at least one additional custody factor, such as the number of officers present, whether it's a police-dominated setting, whether the questioning was scheduled, the duration of questioning, the student's age and whether an arrest follows.
In addition, the questioning by police must be considered an interrogation, such that police are attempting to elicit an incriminating response from a criminal suspect and the person being questioned perceives the coercive pressure, the court said.
The ruling was prompted by an unsubstantiated bomb threat written on a boys' bathroom wall at an Indianapolis middle school.
According to court records, the 13-year-old suspected of writing the threat was escorted by police from his bus on a subsequent school day and questioned by the vice principal in his office, while three armed school resource officers hovered over the student encouraging him to confess.
The student did confess, was arrested and ultimately found delinquent for committing false reporting, a Level 6 felony if committed by an adult, and misdemeanor criminal mischief.
However, the Supreme Court said because the student was not told his rights prior to the custodial interrogation, his confession should have been suppressed and his delinquency adjudication must be overturned.
In a second, related ruling issued Wednesday, the high court distinguished the Miranda requirement for police interrogation of students with questioning and other actions taken solely by school discipline officials.
"When police officers aren't present, a clear rule applies: students are neither in custody nor under interrogation, unless school officials are acting as agents of the police," wrote Chief Justice Loretta Rush, a former Munster resident.