Based on the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Miranda rights are intended to protect people who are suspected of committing a crime. Law enforcement must issue these warnings to an adult or a minor before they interrogate them while in custody. In other words, the suspect must feel that they are not free to leave, and the actions of law enforcement must be reasonably likely to encourage the suspect to incriminate themselves. (Read more here about what a custodial interrogation means.) If the police fail to comply with the Miranda rules, the prosecution will not be able to introduce any evidence that the police obtained after the violation.
Concerns about coercion and violations of Miranda protections are greater in the context of minors. They are less likely to be familiar with the criminal justice system and their rights, and they are more likely to be intimidated by police officers. A judge will consider not only physical but also psychological forms of coercion by the police. They will want to make sure that the minor understood their Miranda rights and the surrounding circumstances.
Questioning in Schools
When the police question students in school, the situation is more likely to be considered custodial because students generally do not feel that they can leave the setting. This makes it especially important to provide them with Miranda warnings. If school administrators rather than police officers are handling the questioning, they do not need to provide Miranda warnings unless they are working for or with law enforcement. (This may seem counterintuitive because the student probably does not feel free to leave in this situation either, and the authority of school administrators can make the situation feel coercive.)
If a conversation involves school discipline or safety, a school administrator does not need to provide a student with Miranda warnings before questioning them. They only need to issue warnings in a matter that might result in juvenile criminal proceedings, and in which they are assisting law enforcement.
Waiving Miranda Rights in Schools
If a minor understands their Miranda rights, they have the ability to waive them. However, a court will review the situation more carefully than a waiver by an adult before admitting an incriminating response into evidence. The prosecution has the burden of showing that the minor understood the situation and their rights, and the waiver was voluntary, knowing, and intelligent.
In considering the validity of a waiver, the court will take into account the age and intelligence of the minor. It also may consider any coercive or deceptive tactics by law enforcement, as well as the emotional state of the minor at the time. A very young child or a child who is struggling with a mental disability may not be able to validly waive their rights. If a parent or guardian was not in the room, a minor may not have understood their rights or may have felt more pressure to cooperate with law enforcement.
Factors such as the time of day and the duration of the interview may play a role in evaluating a waiver as well. A conversation outside normal school hours may seem more coercive, especially if the officer asked a long list of specific questions. If the child had no previous interactions with law enforcement, a court may find that they were less likely to understand their rights and more likely to be intimidated into waiving them.