School Administrator Brushes Off 'Constitutional Niceties' Like Fifth Amendment Rights For Students

from the granting-rights-means-ceding-control----can't-have-that dept

For many school administrators, the default mode is to limit the rights of students while enforcing very broadly-worded policies. The default mode may start shifting, though, as more courts are reminding administrators that, while students' rights may be more constrained than those of adults, they're not nonexistent.

Recently, a court reminded a Minnesota school district that demanding a student's Facebook password was a violation of her First and Fourth Amendment rights. The judge stated:

For more than forty years, the United States courts have recognized that students do not check their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door.

In an on-going case in Kentucky, the state supreme court is trying to determine whether students are entitled to Fifth and Sixth Amendment protections, specifically those related to “Miranda rights.” (via Reason)

The Kentucky Supreme Court is considering a case from Nelson County that could require school officials to give the Miranda warning – You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you … – when questioning a student with a school resource officer present.

Miranda warnings are required when a subject is in custody – when a suspect thinks he’s not free to leave – and at issue is whether a student grilled in the principal’s office inherently fits that description.

This is an interesting question. Students being detained in principals' offices are generally granted “release” at the discretion of the administrator. It's certainly not a formal detainment, like being placed in a holding cell, but it certainly isn't optional either. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that a person is in custody when “the circumstances would lead a reasonable person to conclude he was not free to leave.” This would seem to be the normal conclusion a student would draw from a mandatory visit to the principal's office.

In a brief for N.C., assistant public advocate Robert Strong says that when a student is sent to the principal’s office, “He is not allowed to leave until the principal says so.” In other words, a reasonable student would conclude he was in custody, “given the coercive nature of the principal’s office,” Strong says.

This case sprung out of an incident at a Nelson County school in which a student gave another student some prescription painkillers. The “school resource officer” (actually an armed deputy sheriff) charged the student with illegally dispensing a controlled substance. The student was sentenced in a juvenile court to 45 days in an adult prison (?). His appeal (which was denied) argued that his statement should have been suppressed because he wasn't read his Miranda rights before being questioned.

There's actually some related precedent for this case. The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling on students and Miranda warnings last year in a case from North Carolina, stating that the student's age must be considered when determining whether they have a right to a Miranda warning.

The facts of that case, in which a 13-year-old was interviewed by police at school about a series of neighborhood thefts, were “eerily” similar to N.C.’s case, Strong said. The boy was escorted by an armed school resource officer to an office, where he was interviewed by the officer with an assistant principal present. Neither gave him a Miranda warning.

The U.S. Supreme Court noted the purpose behind Miranda is to keep subjects from being coerced into giving false confessions, to which children are particularly prone. “A reasonable child subjected to police questioning will sometimes feel pressured to submit when a reasonable adult would feel free to go,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court.

Most students are probably unaware of their rights and administrators seem mostly unwilling to pass on that information. It's easier for adminstration if the students operate under the assumption that their rights are limited to whatever the school policies grant them. When students are being interrogated like suspected criminals, with an armed officer present, it would seem they should be granted the same rights as other criminals (especially if the end result is a stay at an adult prison) and be given a Miranda warning before any questioning occurs. This seems like the least the school could do. But, as statements by the administration director show, the district has no interest in granting students these rights.

Simple investigations would be hamstrung and schools would be less safe if principals, every time they question a student, “must look into a crystal ball and predict, ‘This could lead to criminal charges, I have to Mirandize this child,’ ” said Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators.

If you're bringing an armed member of law enforcement into the room, it would seem that you've already made that determination, or have gathered enough evidence to warrant their presence. But schools with law enforcement on staff have been known to bring them along for nearly any reason, possible criminal offense or no. The case mentioned above dealt with some supposedly “bullying” statements made on Facebook about a member of the school's staff and that interrogation involved three members of administration and a law enforcement officer armed with a taser. To handle one teenage girl.

And as for the feeling that “simple investigations” would be “hamstrung” by the Miranda warning? Too bad. The police have to do it and their investigations usually concern something more threatening to safety than Facebook status updates and painkiller distribution.

Young isn't done, though. He takes the same hardline many in law enforcement and various intelligence agencies do. Alleged criminals don't deserve rights.

“If a crime is being committed in school, if somebody is handing out pain medication, I don’t think we should be troubled with constitutional niceties.”

He said courts have given schools leeway on student free-speech issues and searches, which don’t require warrants in schools, because of the importance of maintaining safety and order on campus. “The goal is to protect all children, and it doesn’t bother me if a child’s constitutional protections are limited, if it is to protect all children,” he said.

That's the same excuse used by everyone from the local school to the NSA: “safety” trumps “constitutional protections.” The fact that Young refers to Constitutional rights as “niceties” reveals the condescending and dismissive attitude he has for those under his control. It's little wonder he believes that students shouldn't be read the Miranda warning, as “niceties” like the Fifth and Sixth Amendment simply get in the way of “safety” and “order.” (Without Godwin-ing anything, it's a bit chilling to hear someone openly value “order” over “personal freedoms.”)

Young's fears that apprising students of their Miranda rights will upset order or compromise safety are irrational. Paul Holland, dean at Seattle University Law and a Youth Advocacy Clinic instructor, believes that if school administration is going to collaborate with law enforcement when questioning students, they should “err on the side of advising students of their rights.”

Holland said the fear that safety would be compromised is ill-founded because the Miranda doctrine already contains an exception when there is an imminent threat – such as for questions about the existence or location of weapons on school grounds.

Even if a student’s answers are suppressed because of a Miranda violation and couldn’t be used in a criminal case, they still could be used to suspend or expel a student, he points out in “Schooling Miranda: Policing Interrogation in the 21st Century Schoolhouse.”

It is also likely that most students will waive their right to remain silent or to an attorney, he said. “Thus, the amount of information lost to Miranda would be slight.”

Advising students of their Miranda rights is granting them a modicum of control, something Nelson County's administrators seem loathe to do. This sort of atmosphere pervades many school districts, thanks to overreaching anti-bullying policies and a general push for greater control of every aspect of their students' actions, on or off campus. If actual dangerous suspects are granted this right, however begrudgingly, why is it such a problem to extend it to students?

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Comments on “School Administrator Brushes Off 'Constitutional Niceties' Like Fifth Amendment Rights For Students”

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Killer_Tofu (profile) says:


Good ole ‘murica, where even the law enforcement and people in power all around the country are so lazy, that they want to encroach on our constitutional rights.

For proof see: FBI, DHS: ICE, Most local police, the justice department, and now added to the list, school officials (I am sure there are others too, this is not an all inclusive list).

“But its just so hard to consider people’s rights, lets just ignore them so that I can prosecute more and get the evidence I need. Warrant, whats that?”

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh hells no… I think we should have access to his work and home computers now.
If he thinks others don’t deserve them, then he has no expectation of them.
For the children we need to check his browsing history to make sure he isn’t surfing porn or other questionable sites.

This witch hunt is much more important than the law, so he needs to bend over and take it while we rip his life apart for everyone to see.

Stupidity should hurt, that way even the message gets through the thickest skulls.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Little known fact:

I’d say it is a toss up. If the big govs win the coming cyber and economic conflicts, I’ll bet on a Cardassian style society. If the big corps win, I see it being more of Ferengi style. It’s already leaning that way now.Ref:“1. Once you have their money, you never give it back.”

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: The minor and the law

In Australia it’s actually unlawful for any LEO to question a minor of any form (under 18) without a support person present and that support person MUST be one that the minor agrees to and cannot be a part of a school if the school is the one where the incident occurred and against the school.

Whether that’s true for the USA no clue.. though it should be.

Then again we also have natural justice (procedural fairness) provisions when schools are conducting discipline interviews as well where the child has to have support, has to be able to confront there accusers, and all other CYA’s (Cover Your Arse) are put into place.

In fact knowing how Miranda works in the USA you would think that Schools would welcome that since then they would have a CYA to fall back on and be able to say they followed protocols.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The minor and the law

Details may vary from state to state, but I believe you are correct in that the legal guardian of said minor needs to be present in these situations. (IANAL) However, as we all know the law may state one thing but reality is many times completely the opposite. Typically, only those with sufficient resources pursue these issues to the point where the offenders (police, teacher, principal …) are held accountable by the court system and then they are given a slap on the wrist, sometimes they get a paid vacation.

dmntd says:

it's not ok...

What more can you ask for? It’s only the plan prepared to make you swan dive to the asphalt! Take care and be silent, only when I tell you to. As you get older, many will say, never brake for for liberty! Be at ease unprepared fodder, a few voices always ring truer, take them to heart and know the real power of our right’s….silence is golden.

dmntd says:


What more can you ask for? It’s only the plan prepared to make you swan dive to the asphalt! Take care and be silent, only when I tell you to. As you get older, many will say, never brake for for liberty! Be at ease unprepared fodder, a few voices always ring truer, take them to heart and know the real power of our right’s….silence is golden.

Anonymous Coward says:

seems to me that the schools are just trying to ready students for when they leave school and go out into the big, wide world. once they make that progressive step, they will soon discover that almost all of their rights were dissolved by the government anyway. this is a good way of preparing them for having nearly no protections under the law

Jerk2 says:

Wayne Young is the real danger here.

From looking around the Web, Wayne Young not only teaches administors, but teaches law.
I find it amazing that Wayne Young is allowed to hold a JD while trying to advance an argument that Natural rights and the Constitution should be voided because it is inconvenient to running a police state.

Any questioning in which the answers could be used to deny rights or freedoms should be protected/regulated including expulsion or imprisonment. What is so hard about that?

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Order vs. personal freedom

Without Godwin-ing anything, it’s a bit chilling to hear someone openly value “order” over “personal freedoms.”

While I don’t disagree with the basic premise of this article, seeing a statement like this is a bit chilling (to use the author’s term) in and of itself, as it reveals a profound ignorance and a very worrisome bias on the part of the author.

You see, “valuing order over personal freedom” is the very cornerstone of civilization itself. The concept that no, every person cannot simply be free to do everything that they want whenever they want to, that a concept of “the greater good of society” exists that is more important than the anarchy of pure freedom, is an inherent and fundamental principle of any and every society, and to see the concept condemned in such blanket terms is worrisome.

Yes, taken to extremes, this principle leads to oppression. But the difference is one of degree, not one of quality. To openly advocate against it is barbaric, not in the meaningless, pejorative sense of “I’ll use a harsh word to describe something I don’t like,” but in the literal sense: to speak against this principle is literally to speak in favor of barbarism, the opposite of civilization.

brandon (profile) says:

Re: Order vs. personal freedom

your argument is proof positive that we don’t deserve individual rights anymore. the “cornerstone” of a living, thriving civilization isn’t “order”. a civilization that is founded completely on “order” is a stagnant civilization that is at the end of the life cycle. which seems to describe us, sadly.

the cornerstone of civilization is an ebbing and flowing balance between order and random change (chaos). from a long range view of public best interest, there has to be chaos involved to cultivate growth and development of a civilization. what we’re offered under the disguise of “safety” is a slow death of decay. it’s unattractive.

Bergman (profile) says:

Title 18, Chapter 13, Section 242 makes it a federal crime punishable by a year in prison for any public official to misuse their official authority under color of law to infringe upon or deny any legal right of any citizen of the United States. Title 18, Chapter 13, Section 241 makes it a federal crime punishable by ten years in prison for a public official to conspire with another public official to commit an act that would violate Section 242.

A police officer is a public official. So is a deputy sheriff. So is a school principal. And students are indeed citizens.

A principal denying someone a “constitutional nicety” with an armed deputy in the room (or even just a teacher) is a violation of Sections 241 and 242. The deputy has a duty to arrest any lawbreaker he sees…by not arresting the principal on the spot he became a conspirator.

Anonymous Coward says:

One key is having the police officer there while you question the child. WHY is he there if you think nothing criminal is going on? If you do think something criminal is going on, don’t you have every duty to read the student their rights, just like you would with any other questioning?

“If a crime is being committed in school, … I don?t think we should be troubled with constitutional niceties.”

You didn’t specify “student” there. So I assume you will have no problem with the police searching through every single document in your office without a warrant, planting listening devices in your office, etc. I’m sure if they look hard enough for long enough they will find SOME crime. If nothing else they can secretly plant a speed sensor on the underbody of your car and give you tickets every time you go over 15 in the school zone. They’d LOVE to not be troubled with constitutional niceties.

Anonymous Coward says:

As a society, you either have rules and follow them or you do not, there is no in between. These situations could be teachable moments where the students learn their rights rather than the point at which they understand they have none.

In light of the zero tolerance policies being applied in many schools, one would think these policies would include the rights of students. There should be zero tolerance when it comes to the violation of anyone’s rights, be it students, teachers, principals or the janitor. This is the way a civilized society behaves and if you want to strut around proclaiming that you are exceptional then you best start acting like it.

Anonymous Coward says:

it’s not the schools fault, it is the fault of your court and legal system.

of course the schools are not going to start reading miranda rights if they can get convictions without it.

what should happen is every time a case gets to a court, and it is determined they the accused has not been read their RIGHTS, the case should be dismissed.

after awile, the schools will work out that to get a conviction in a court of law, they have to follow the appropriate and correct legal procedures.

anyone that has been charged and convicted in the past without having their rights read to them should be released, and compensated for false arrest (and illegal arrest)..

it’s the judges who are not enforcing the constitution and bill of rights that is the problem. not the schools.

do you think if the police could get convictions for crimes without reading them their rights they would continue to read them ?? of course not..

what about the interrogation that police to BEFORE they make an arrest and read the right to someone. That is allowed, you hear the cop saying (if you cooperate with me, it will go easier on you), that is a lie to get the person to talk.. all before any rights are read..

watch a couple of shows of “cops” to see what I mean they questions the people involved, (ALOT) then at some stage they usually take one or more people away, they dont read them their rights before their interrogation.

what should happen is after this initial interrogation, those exact same questions should again be asked after having their rights read to them. I dont know if it happens this way, but it should, none of the testomony provided before the rights have been read should be submissable in court.. nor should what was provided before you receive your rights be consider to ‘help’ you in court or not, so what the police say to you at the scene should (and is not) considered) (if you have not received your rights).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh, come on now, that goes too far. We have a right against self-incrimination, according to the Constitution. But the Constitution does not list a right to have our rights read TO us. This case is different from COPS.

They way things are now, you only need your rights read if you are not free to leave, or would reasonably believe you are not free to leave. This is to prevent a coerced confession. The principal in this case “said that, while he wouldn?t have expected N.C. to leave his office, he ‘guessed’ the boy was free to do so.” He “guesses”? How is the student supposed to know if he is free to leave if the principal isn’t even sure? In any case, the student is certainly not free to leave the school building, as that would be truancy.

That’s a far cry from the people on “Cops”, who are adults (who should reasonably know their rights) and not in custody at the time of the statements.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“it’s not the schools fault,”

Yes it is and they need to be held accountable. They know the rules and yet they violate them anyway.

“it’s the judges who are not enforcing the constitution and bill of rights that is the problem”

This may be a separate problem, but you overlook the fact that one needs to be heard by the court before any rulings occur and it is no small effort to get there. What does one do when the DA refuses to prosecute?

Although rationalizations may be good for ones self image, making excuses benefits no one.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

“The case mentioned above dealt with some supposedly “bullying” statements made on Facebook about a member of the school’s staff and that interrogation involved three members of administration and a law enforcement officer armed with a taser. To handle one teenage girl.”

She was armed with a sharp wit. Apparently she had them outnumbered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well as far as the Godwin thing… Call an orange an orange, and an apple an apple. Or in other words: If it quacks like a ducks, walks like duck, and looks like a duck, it’s probably some variety of avian water dweller.

I’d love to see that guy’s own arguments applied to him. A person in a position of authority that becomes a threat to society… Society shouldn’t have to deal with those niceties, either. His threat is doubly heinous in that he’s teaching the next generation to be tolerant of evil.

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