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J.D.B. v. North Carolina

June 16, 2011

J. D. B., PETITIONER
v.
NORTH CAROLINA



ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA Court Below: SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2010

Argued March 23, 2011

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.

Held: A child's age properly informs Miranda's custody analysis. Pp. 5--18.

(a) Custodial police interrogation entails "inherently compelling pressures," Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, 467, that "can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed," Corley v. United States, 556 U. S. ___, ___. Recent studies suggest that risk is all the more acute when the subject of custodial interrogation is a juvenile. Whether a suspect is "in custody" for Miranda purposes is an objective determination involving two discrete inquires: "first, what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and second, given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Thompson v. Keohane, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Sotomayor

564 U. S. ____ (2011)

Opinion of the Court

This case presents the question whether the age of a child subjected to police questioning is relevant to the custody analysis of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966). It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave. Seeing no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, we hold that a child's age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis.

I.

A.

Petitioner J. D. B. was a 13-year-old, seventh-grade student attending class at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina when he was removed from his classroom by a uniformed police officer, escorted to a closed-door conference room, and questioned by police for at least half an hour.

This was the second time that police questioned J. D. B. in the span of a week. Five days earlier, two home break-ins occurred, and various items were stolen. Police stopped and questioned J. D. B. after he was seen behind a residence in the neighborhood where the crimes occurred. That same day, police also spoke to J. D. B.'s grand-mother-his legal guardian-as well as his aunt.

Police later learned that a digital camera matching the description of one of the stolen items had been found at J. D. B.'s middle school and seen in J. D. B.'s possession. Investigator DiCostanzo, the juvenile investigator with the local police force who had been assigned to the case, went to the school to question J. D. B. Upon arrival, DiCostanzo informed the uniformed police officer on detail to the school (a so-called school resource officer), the assistant principal, and an administrative intern that he was there to question J. D. B. about the break-ins. Although DiCostanzo asked the school administrators to verify J. D. B.'s date of birth, address, and parent contact information from school records, neither the police officers nor the school administrators contacted J. D. B.'s grandmother.

The uniformed officer interrupted J. D. B.'s afternoon social studies class, removed J. D. B. from the classroom, and escorted him to a school conference room.*fn1 There, J. D. B. was met by DiCostanzo, the assistant principal, and the administrative intern. The door to the conference room was closed. With the two police officers and the two administrators present, J. D. B. was questioned for the next 30 to 45 minutes. Prior to the commencement of questioning, J. D. B. was given neither Miranda warnings nor the opportunity to speak to his grandmother. Nor was he informed that he was free to leave the room.

Questioning began with small talk-discussion of sports and J. D. B.'s family life. DiCostanzo asked, and J. D. B. agreed, to discuss the events of the prior weekend. Denying any wrongdoing, J. D. B. explained that he had been in the neighborhood where the crimes occurred because he was seeking work mowing lawns. DiCostanzo pressed J. D. B. for additional detail about his efforts to obtain work; asked J. D. B. to explain a prior incident, when one of the victims returned home to find J. D. B. behind her house; and confronted J. D. B. with the stolen camera. The assistant principal urged J. D. B. to "do the right thing," warning J. D. B. that "the truth always comes out in the end." App. 99a, 112a.

Eventually, J. D. B. asked whether he would "still be in trouble" if he returned the "stuff." Ibid. In response, DiCostanzo explained that return of the stolen items would be helpful, but "this thing is going to court" regardless. Id., at 112a; ibid. ("[W]hat's done is done[;] now you need to help yourself by making it right"); see also id., at 99a. DiCostanzo then warned that he may need to seek a secure custody order if he believed that J. D. B. would continue to break into other homes. When J. D. B. asked what a secure custody order was, DiCostanzo explained that "it's where you get sent to juvenile detention before court." Id., at 112a.

After learning of the prospect of juvenile detention, J. D. B. confessed that he and a friend were responsible for the break-ins. DiCostanzo only then informed J. D. B. that he could refuse to answer the investigator's questions and that he was free to leave.*fn2 Asked whether he understood, J. D. B. nodded and provided further detail, including information about the location of the stolen items. Eventually J. D. B. wrote a statement, at DiCostanzo's request. When the bell rang indicating the end of the schoolday, J. D. B. was allowed to leave to catch the bus home.

B.

Two juvenile petitions were filed against J. D. B., each alleging one count of breaking and entering and one count of larceny. J. D. B.'s public defender moved to suppress his statements and the evidence derived therefrom, arguing that suppression was necessary because J. D. B. had been "interrogated by police in a custodial setting without being afforded Miranda warning[s]," App. 89a, and because his statements were involuntary under the totality of the circumstances test, id., at 142a; see Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U. S. 218, 226 (1973) (due process precludes admission of a confession where "a defendant's will was overborne" by the circumstances of the interrogation). After a suppression hearing at which DiCostanzo and J. D. B. testified, the trial court denied the motion, deciding that J. D. B. was not in custody at the time of the schoolhouse interrogation and that his statements were voluntary. As a result, J. D. B. entered a transcript of admission to all four counts, renewing his objection to the denial of his motion to suppress, and the court adjudicated J. D. B. delinquent.

A divided panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed. In re J. D. B., 196 N. C. App. 234, 674 S. E. 2d 795 (2009). The North Carolina Supreme Court held, over two dissents, that J. D. B. was not in custody when he confessed, "declin[ing] to extend the test for custody to include consideration of the age . . . of an individual subjected to questioning by police." In re J. D. B., 363 N. C. 664, 672, 686 S. E. 2d 135, 140 (2009).*fn3

We granted certiorari to determine whether the Miranda custody analysis includes consideration of a juvenile suspect's age. 562 U. S. ___ (2010).

II.

A.

Any police interview of an individual suspected of a crime has "coercive aspects to it." Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U. S. 492, 495 (1977) (per curiam). Only those interrogations that occur while a suspect is in police custody, however, "heighte[n] the risk" that statements obtained are not the product of the suspect's free choice. Dickerson v. United States, 530 U. S. 428, 435 (2000).

By its very nature, custodial police interrogation entails "inherently compelling pressures." Miranda, 384 U. S., at 467. Even for an adult, the physical and psychological isolation of custodial interrogation can "undermine the individual's will to resist and . . . compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely." Ibid. Indeed, the pressure of custodial interrogation is so immense that it "can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed." Corley v. United States, 556 U. S. __, __ (2009) (slip op., at 16) (citing Drizin & Leo, The Problem of False Confessions in the Post-DNA World, 82 N. C. L. Rev. 891, 906--907 (2004)); see also Miranda, 384 U. S., at 455, n. 23. That risk is all the more troubling-and recent studies suggest, all the more acute-when the subject of custodial interrogation is a juvenile. See Brief for Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth et al. as Amici Curiae 21--22 (collecting empirical studies that "illustrate the heightened risk of false confessions from youth").

Recognizing that the inherently coercive nature of custodial interrogation "blurs the line between voluntary and involuntary statements," Dickerson, 530 U. S., at 435, this Court in Miranda adopted a set of prophylactic measures designed to safeguard the constitutional guarantee against self-incrimination. Prior to questioning, a suspect "must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed." 384 U. S., at 444; see also Florida v. Powell, 559 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 8) ("The four warnings Miranda requires are invariable, but this Court has not dictated the words in which the essential information must be conveyed"). And, if a suspect makes a statement during custodial interrogation, the burden is on the Government to show, as a "prerequisit[e]" to the statement's admissibility as evidence in the Government's case in chief, that the defendant "voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently" waived his rights.*fn4

Miranda, 384 U. S., at 444, 475--476; Dickerson, 530 U. S., at 443--444.

Because these measures protect the individual against the coercive nature of custodial interrogation, they are required " 'only where there has been such a restriction on a person's freedom as to render him "in custody." ' " Stans-bury v. California, 511 U. S. 318, 322 (1994) (per curiam) (quoting Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U. S. 492, 495 (1977) (per curiam)). As we have repeatedly emphasized, whether a suspect is "in custody" is an objective inquiry.

"Two discrete inquiries are essential to the determination: first, what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and second, given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. Once the scene is set and the players' lines and actions are reconstructed, the court must apply an objective test to resolve the ultimate inquiry: was there a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated ...


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