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In a deeply divided decision handed down Friday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has established a per se rule that a student is entitled to receive Miranda warnings before being questioned by a school police officer on school grounds. However, the future of the rule announced by the court in In the Interest of R.H. is questionable, since only two justices signed their names to it. The case was decided by a plurality of the court. Justice Russell M. Nigro wrote the opinion announcing the judgment of the court, with Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala joining. Justices Sandra Schultz Newman and Thomas Saylor filed separate concurring opinions, in which both justices distanced themselves from the per se rule created by Nigro. Justices Ralph J. Cappy and Ronald D. Castille filed separate dissenting opinions, and Justice Michael Eakin did not participate in the case. So, while four justices agreed that the defendant in the case should have been read his Miranda rights, and therefore decided to reverse the Superior Court, only two said they think every student should receive the warnings when being questioned by school police. In December 1998, the Monroe County, Pa., sheriff notified the East Stroudsburg Area School District Police Department that someone broke into a classroom, wrote graffiti on chalkboards, overturned desks and discharged the room’s fire extinguisher. Footprints left in the extinguisher discharge appeared to match those of the defendant, R.H. R.H. was taken to a room in the school, where an officer instructed him to remove his shoes. The officer concluded that the print matched those found in the classroom. The officer then told R.H. that the shoe would be kept as evidence and that he was going to be questioned about the break-in. According to the opinion, R.H. was not read his Miranda warnings prior to being questioned and was not allowed to leave the room where the 25-minute interrogation took place, although the door remained open. R.H. admitted to the officer that he participated in the break-in during the questioning. Ultimately, an adjudication hearing was held, and R.H. was charged with burglary, criminal trespass, theft by unlawful taking, criminal mischief, institutional vandalism and criminal conspiracy. R.H. was then sent to a residential treatment center for nine months and received a year of probation. On appeal to the state supreme court, R.H. claimed that his Fifth Amendment rights had been violated because he was compelled to give evidence against himself and that he should have been read his Miranda rights before being questioned by the school officer. His confession, he contended, should have been suppressed. Four of the justices agreed that R.H. should have received Miranda warnings, reversing a decision by the Superior Court. As an initial matter, Nigro said, neither the commonwealth nor R.H. contested that R.H. was in custody during the interrogation. “Thus, the issue becomes whether school police officers should be considered ‘law enforcement officers’ within the purview of Miranda. Because school police officers are permitted to exercise the same authority as municipal police while on school property and because they wear uniforms and badges, Nigro wrote in the lead opinion, school police are constitutionally indistinguishable from municipal police. Nigro noted that the interrogation of R.H. led to charges by the municipal police and that the school officers were wearing uniforms and badges during the interrogation. Nigro concluded that the officers were “law enforcement officers” within the scope of Miranda. “Thus, [R.H.] was entitled to be read his Miranda rights before the school police questioned him and, given their failure to do so, we find that [R.H.'s] Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination was violated,” Nigro wrote. NO RULE NECESSARY In her concurrence, Newman agreed that R.H. should have been read his Miranda warnings, and agreed that his confession should be suppressed. However, she said she disagreed with the lead opinion’s creation of a per se rule “requiring Miranda warnings whenever a student is questioned by police on school grounds.” Newman said the question of whether Miranda warnings are necessary depends upon the circumstances of the specific situation. “A student does not lose his rights when he enters the school, but the school officials must have the ability to protect adequately the other students,” Newman wrote. Newman then proposed a five-prong test by which the rights of the student can be protected without compromising the ability of school officials to conduct an investigation. “When weighing the constitutional interests of the student in this setting, courts should consider the following factors: (1) the age of the student questioned … (2) the ability of the juvenile to understand the Miranda warnings if they are given; (3) the gravity of the offense alleged; (4) the prospect of criminal proceedings, as opposed to merely school-related discipline; and (5) the extent of the coercive environment in which the questioning occurs,” she wrote. “The school officials can demonstrate that the warnings are not necessary if, after balancing the factors articulated above, it is reasonable for them not to Mirandize the student,” Newman said. In a separate concurring opinion, Saylor likewise opposed the per se rule established by the lead opinion. He wrote separately “to emphasize the substantial interest of school administrators and educators in ensuring discipline and the need to afford them latitude in questioning students respecting activities that may violate school rules.” DISSENT In a lengthy dissent, Castille said that while students do not forfeit their constitutional rights, those rights are unquestionably different in the school setting, a factor, he said, that the lead opinion did not address. “In light of the vitally important objective of maintaining a safe and proper educational environment for all students, and the flexibility and leeway which schools and school personnel must be afforded in order to achieve this goal, it is, in my opinion, unquestionably inappropriate to automatically import Miranda into the school environment wholesale and require warnings before school security personnel may question a student,” Castille wrote. Castille said he believed that R.H.’s constitutional rights were not violated because R.H. was not in custody during the time he was questioned, nor were the school officers law enforcement officers. R.H. was not in custody because he was not formally arrested or physically restrained and the door to the room where the questioning took place remained open, Castille said. Castille also disputed the lead opinion’s conclusion that school police officers are law enforcement officials. When the law governing school police officers is read in its totality, “it is apparent that school police officers appointed under the statute are not so much law enforcement officials charged with ferreting out criminal activity … but are specialized members of the school staff,” he wrote. He said that the fact that the school officers were in uniform at the time of the interrogation did not convert the officers into traditional police officers subject to full application of the Miranda doctrine. Nor was Castille persuaded by the lead opinion’s argument that Miranda warnings were required because the questioning led to criminal charges. “The decision to bring criminal charges depends on the nature of the offense, the ultimate prosecuting authority’s view of the evidence against the individual, and a host of other factors outside of the control … of school police. … The identity of the interrogators plays little or no role in that decision,” Castille wrote. Castille also disagreed with Newman’s proposed test because, he said, the test is even broader than the lead opinion’s. “This approach would make Miranda applicable not just to the school police but to all school personnel, including teachers, administrators, custodial staff, cafeteria workers, etc. as well as ‘any other person who may question a student,’” he said. Cappy, in a separate dissenting opinion, said he agreed with Castille’s proposed outcome, but said that the lead opinion correctly stated that R.H. was in custody at the time of the questioning.

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