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Law School Case Brief

J. D. B. v. North Carolina - 564 U.S. 261, 131 S. Ct. 2394 (2011)

Rule:

In some circumstances, a child's age would have affected how a reasonable person in the suspect's position would perceive his or her freedom to leave. That is, a reasonable child subjected to police questioning will sometimes feel pressured to submit when a reasonable adult would feel free to go. Courts can account for that reality without doing any damage to the objective nature of the custody analysis. 

Facts:

Police stopped and questioned petitioner J. D. B., a 13-year-old, seventh-grade student, upon seeing him near the site of two home break-ins. Five days later, after a digital camera matching one of the stolen items was found at J. D. B.'s school and seen in his possession, Investigator DiCostanzo went to the school. A uniformed police officer on detail to the school took J. D. B. from his classroom to a closed-door conference room, where police and school administrators questioned him for at least 30 minutes. Before beginning, they did not give him Miranda warnings or the opportunity to call his grandmother, his legal guardian, nor tell him he was free to leave the room. He first denied his involvement, but later confessed after officials urged him to tell the truth and told him about the prospect of juvenile detention. DiCostanzo only then told him that he could refuse to answer questions and was free to leave. Asked whether he understood, J. D. B. nodded and provided further detail, including the location of the stolen items. He also wrote a statement, at DiCostanzo's  request. When the school day ended, he was permitted to leave to catch the bus home. Two juvenile petitions were filed against J. D. B., charging him with breaking and entering and with larceny. His public defender moved to suppress his statements and the evidence derived therefrom, arguing that J. D. B. had been interrogated in a custodial setting without being afforded Miranda warnings and that his statements were involuntary. The trial court denied the motion. J. D. B. entered a transcript of admission to the charges, but renewed his objection to the denial of his motion to suppress. The court adjudicated him delinquent, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals and State Supreme Court affirmed. The latter court declined to find J. D. B.'s age relevant to the determination whether he was in police custody.

Issue:

Does the Miranda custody analysis include consideration of a juvenile suspect's age?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court determined that remand was warranted because a child's age properly informed the Miranda custody analysis since, inter alia, (1) a reasonable child subjected to police questioning will sometimes feel pressured to submit when a reasonable adult would feel free to go, and courts can account for that reality without doing any damage to the objective nature of the custody analysis, and (2) a child's age differed from other personal characteristics that, even when known to police, have no objectively discernible relationship to a reasonable person's understanding of his freedom of action.

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