Simple Justice: In re J.D.B. and Custodial Interrogations

BY Clay Turner

“You have the right to remain silent.” Thus begins a refrain made familiar to Americans through seemingly endless repetition on Law & Order, Cops, and many other popular depictions of police interrogations. In the real world, this ritualistic incantation of rights is much more than a dramatic moment—it is an important protection against police coercion. Indeed, it is a constitutional imperative. Miranda v. Arizona and the eponymic police warnings which it mandated shield the Fifth Amendment rights of individuals from the vast coercive power of the state. At its core, Miranda requires “the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.” Defining the contours of these procedural safeguards has troubled judges and scholars alike. More basic, however, than the thorny questions of what constitutes a sufficient Miranda warning, and how that standard should change in special contexts, is the foundational question of when a suspect must be Mirandized.

In December 2009, the Supreme Court of North Carolina took up this question and provided an alarming answer. In In re J.D.B., the court held that a juvenile’s age was irrelevant to the inquiry into whether an interrogation was “custodial” under title 7B, section 2101 of the General Statutes of North Carolina, which provides for an enhanced Miranda warning for North Carolina juveniles. Perhaps more troubling, the court created out of whole cloth a higher bar for finding police interrogations custodial when conducted inside a school, as opposed to outside of school. Together these findings will allow the police to elide the Fifth Amendment and the added protections of section 2101 by conducting in-school interrogations of juveniles about out of school crimes. If it stands uncorrected, In re J.D.B. will incentivize the targeting of children in our schools to obtain coerced confessions.

This Recent Development contends that in the In re J.D.B. majority’s search for simple rules—for police and for courts—simple justice for North Carolina’s children was lost.

DOWNLOAD PDF | 89 N.C. L. Rev. 685 (2011)