In most situations in New Mexico, a criminal suspect being held for an interrogation must be read his or her Miranda rights. For Miranda rights to kick in, the suspect must be subject to a custodial interrogation. One hallmark of the custodial interrogation is that the subject does not feel free to leave. This takes on unique meaning in a juvenile criminal case involving the questioning of a student.
Investigatory Detention by School Personnel Not a Custodial Interrogation
In a recent case, State v. Antonio T., the New Mexico Court of Appeals examined the rights of a student when being questioned by a school official in the presence of a police officer. The court was tasked with determining whether this situation arose to the level of a custodial interrogation or whether it was instead simply an investigatory detention.
The court found that it was simply an investigatory investigation despite the many attributes that would suggest that this was a custodial interrogation including the fact the student probably by no means felt free to leave. Moreover, because it was conducted by the Vice Principal in a school setting, the questioning was not considered an investigatory detention by police.
This is an important distinction since juveniles in New Mexico are protected against such investigatory police detentions due to the fact that they are less likely to know their rights or to exert them even if they do know them because of their youth. Because it was only an investigatory detention by a school official, the court of appeals agreed that the student was not entitled to a reading of his rights under Miranda.
Police Presence Not Enough to Trigger Miranda
In this case, the student was taken into the vice principal‘s office to be questioned about being intoxicated on school grounds. Soon after the student entered the vice principal‘s office, a police officer acting as the school‘s resource officer arrived in the office as well.
The police officer was dressed in his full uniform and was called in to administer a portable breath test. While the police officer prepared the portable breath test, the vice principal questioned the defendant. The student admitted to the Vice Principal that he had two shots of peppermint schnapps and the portable breath test showed that the student had a blood alcohol concentration of .11 percent.
At trial, the student sought to suppress his admission about consuming the alcohol. He alleged that the prosecution did not show that he made a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of his right to remain silent due to the failure to read him his rights under Miranda. The trial court disagreed as would the Court of Appeals.
In this case, though the student was questioned by the school official in the presence of a police officer, it was found that it was not a custodial interrogation. The court reasoned that the police officer only listened while the student was questioned. The officer did not pariticpate in the questioning nor control the area wehre the questioning took place.
Greater Rights for Juveniles Not at Issue Investigation by School Personnel
New Mexico does have a statute providing juveniles with greater protections in an investigatory interrogation. In fact, New Mexico is the only state that requires a reading of Miranda rights during an investigatory interrogation of a juvenile.
However, the New Mexico statute limits when a juvenile must be read their Miranda rights in an investigatory interrogation to situations where the investigation is undertaken by, or on behalf of, law enforcement officials. Here, the investigation was not undertaken on behalf of law enforcement. Thought the police officer was aware of the investigation, he did not provide any direct assistance or even ask any questions.
Perhaps most important for the ruling are the student safety issues facing schools. In this case, it was determined that the vice principal conducted the questioning in order to ensure the safety of the child and the other students in the school. As a vice principal, she has a legitimate interest, separate from the law enforcement aspect of the incident, to inquire into whether the student was intoxicated and whether the alcohol remained on the premises possibly endangering the defendant or other students.
The student safety considerations seem to dictate the court‘s decision. A traditional analysis of whether a custodial interrogation took place would likely result in a different outcome. After all, would a student in this situation really feel free to simply leave despite the fact that the officer was simply present but not conducting the questioning?
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