Courts must consider a child’s age when deciding whether he or she is in custody and must be read Miranda rights, the Supreme Court ruled today. In a 5-to-4 ruling, the high court said North Carolina police and school officials were wrong when they interviewed a 13-year-old special education student about a string of break-ins without reading him his Miranda rights. The opinion was written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor for the court’s more liberal judges plus Anthony Kennedy. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissent for the conservative wing.
The interview took place in a closed room at the boy’s school. The North Carolina Supreme Court refused to throw out his confession, saying courts cannot look at age when examining whether the boy believed he could leave. Sotomayor said that to agree with North Carolina’s position “that a child's age is never relevant to whether a suspect has been taken into custody—and thus to ignore the very real differences between children and adults—would be to deny children the full scope of the procedural safeguards that Miranda guarantees to adults.” Alito called the majority ruling “fundamentally inconsistent with one of the main justifications for the Miranda rule: the perceived need for a clear rule that can be easily applied in all cases.”