(The principal speaking over the school's public address system.)
Good morning boys and girls. Following our pledge to the flag this morning, we will start a new tradition in Kentucky schools - the recitation of our school Miranda Warning. Now, I know this will sound a little unusual at first, but after a week or so, I'm sure you'll be able to say it without thinking too much about it.
Now, repeat after me.
- Every day when my Mommy and Daddy drop me off at school, I am in custody.
- It's just like being in jail, except we do lots of fun stuff, and the jailers are nice most of the time.
- I have the right to remain silent. In fact, my teachers would generally prefer this.
- Anything I say to my teachers and my principal may be used against me in a court of law.
- I have the right to consult an attorney or have my parents come to school before speaking to the principal or school resource officer.
- I am allowed to have my parents or an attorney present during questioning.
- If I cannot afford an attorney, and my parents won't come to school, my school will hire an attorney for me before any questioning.
- If I decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, I will still have the right to stop answering at any time, until I talk to an attorney, or call my Mommy.
- An important part of being a good student is knowing and understanding my rights.
- And I know and understand my rights
Students must be informed of their legal rights - including the right to remain silent - before being questioned by school administrators working with police or school resource officers, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday in throwing out an incriminating statement in a drug case.
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 case centers on the arrest of a Nelson County student identified in court records only as N.C., who was charged with a drug offense after sharing prescription hydrocodone with a classmate at school.
Police charged "N.C." after a school administrator and officer questioned him about the medication and he admitted to giving a pill to a classmate. Justice Mary Noble wrote that because of the presence of the police officer and the lack of warning about possible criminal charges, the student should have been informed of his rights, commonly known as a Miranda warning.
"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," Noble wrote.
Justices Bill Cunningham and Daniel Venters dissented. Cunningham said the high court overturned the conviction of "N.C." without citing another similar case from any other state.
Cunningham said the presence of a school resource officer during questioning doesn't make the situation a custodial interview requiring a recitation of constitutional rights. Once a student arrives on campus, he or she cannot leave during the school day, the justice wrote.
"A student in a public school is always in 'custody'," Cunningham wrote. "The student is not 'free' to leave at any time after he or she arrives at school - in math class, in the hallway or cafeteria. The nature of the setting is continuous 'custody'."
Venters, joined by Cunningham and justice Will T. Scott, said the court should have taken Cunningham's logic further, striking down the use of admissions only to deter reckless or grossly negligent police conduct and in cases where it is obvious the statement was involuntary or under circumstances that cast doubt upon its reliability.
The issue arose in 2008 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, the administrator removed N.C. from class and took him to an office, then closed the door.
After being told where the bottle was found and informed that several pills had been given away, N.C. admitted to giving two pills to a friend who recently had wisdom teeth removed. The assistant principal told N.C. that he was subject to school discipline and the school resource officer told N.C. he would be charged with a crime. N.C. was later expelled from school.
Noble noted that the statement made by N.C. proved to be the sole basis for the criminal action.
"If he had been an adult under these same circumstances, there is no question that the statements would not have been admissible under Miranda," Noble wrote.
School officials may still question students for disciplinary reasons, but once law enforcement becomes involved, the student must be informed of their rights, Noble wrote.
Cunningham, joined by Venters, wrote that Noble erred in concluding that school disciplinary proceedings don't necessarily require law enforcement participation.
"This faulty assumption is rooted in the nostalgia of a much more innocent time when school discipline was all about classroom disruption, throwing paper wads and erasers, bathroom graffiti and playing hooky," Cunningham wrote. "That unrealistic statement is surely not meant for trafficking in hydrocodone as we have here. Or loaded guns and box cutters."