Two students at Framingham High School showed up at the nurse’s office on Monday, October 7th. They were not there, however, for the typical stomachache or sore throat – these students had apparently eaten pot brownies and become ill as a result. According to an article in the Metrowest Daily News, the students had bought the brownies that morning from a fellow classmate. The students ate the brownies just before homeroom and showed up in the nurse’s office a short time later. After the students’ complaints, police were notified and initiated an investigation. The classmate allegedly responsible for selling the brownies is sixteen years old and is therefore considered to be a juvenile. The juvenile’s name was not released but police did state that it was a female in her senior year. After the police arrived on scene to investigate, they searched the juvenile’s bag and reportedly found a total of eight more brownies. They also spoke to the juvenile, who admitted to selling the brownies, and stated that she had made them after finding a recipe online. The juvenile is now facing charges of distributing marijuana, and for having drugs on a school campus.
Fortunately for the juvenile, the Commonwealth may have some trouble introducing her statements, and the brownies, against her at trial. If the juvenile was in “custody” at the time of the police questioning- i.e., if a reasonable person in her position would not have felt free to leave – the police were required to give her Miranda warnings before speaking with her. When an investigation involves an adult suspect, simply providing the person with her Miranda warnings is sufficient. If the suspect agrees to waive her rights and speak with the police, the police are free to ask questions.
When it comes to juveniles, however, the laws are different – the scope of Miranda is broader. The Supreme Judicial Court has recognized that there are special problems when dealing with juveniles and Miranda waivers. The Court has specifically recognized that juveniles’ ability to understand Miranda waivers is limited and that juveniles cannot be compared to adults, who are presumably in full possession of their senses and knowledgeable of the consequences of their admissions. In light of this, juveniles who are suspected of a crime have additional protections to ensure that they understand the ramifications of waiving Miranda. Such additional protections include the Interested Adult Rule, which states that there should ordinarily be a “meaningful consultation” with a parent, interested adult, or attorney about whether the juvenile should waive her Miranda rights prior to speaking with the police.
The juvenile in this case has a strong argument that she was in “custody” for the purposes of Miranda. She was presumably approached by uniformed police officers on school property and told that two other students had identified her as the person that had sold the pot brownies. Further, once the police began speaking with her, the juvenile was likely aware that she was facing both the possibility of criminal charges, as well as school disciplinary actions, for her conduct. Under these circumstances, a reasonable sixteen year old in the juvenile’s position would likely feel like she was not free to leave and that she must stay and answer the officers’ questions. Therefore, the court may well find that the police should have provided her with Miranda warnings before speaking with her. Further, given her age, the court would also likely find that the police should have given the juvenile an opportunity to speak with an interested adult before she made a decision about talking to the police.
The facts of this case also raise questions as to the legitimacy of the search of the juvenile’s bag. While the police are allowed to search a person’s property without a warrant if the person gives consent or if the person is arrested (and the property is within the person’s “wingspan”), the article is devoid of any indication that the juvenile consented to the search, and she does not appear to have been arrested. Therefore, the juvenile may well have an additional argument that the eight brownies found in her bag should not be admitted as evidence against her at trial because they were obtained as a result of an unlawful search.
If you have a child in similar circumstances, you will need a criminal defense attorney who knows the differences between juvenile and adult criminal law, and who will use those differences to help defend your child’s case. Daniel Cappetta is an attorney with extensive experience in both juvenile and adult criminal court. Call him for a free consultation.