Court Punts On Whether a School Safety and Security Supervisor Must Mirandize a Minor Before Questioning Him At School in Police Presence. In re L.G.
On September 20, 2018, by a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed In re L.G. Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-3750, as improvidently accepted. The issue in the case was whether a minor’s rights against self-incrimination were violated when he was questioned in the presence of police officers by a school resource supervisor, who was under an obligation to report his findings to police. Justice O’Donnell dissented with an opinion joined by Justice French. Justice Kennedy also dissented, but did not join O’Donnell’s opinion and did not write separately.
By dismissing this case, the opinion of the Second District Court of Appeals stands. That court held Miranda warnings were required in this situation. This case was argued to the Supreme Court on July 31, 2018.
Case Background (from the O’Donnell Dissent)
On October 27, 2015, the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center received an anonymous telephone call about a bomb at local alternative school. The school was evacuated, after which Jamie Bullens, the executive director of safety and security for the Dayton Public School system, arrived, along with the police. Bullens supervises the school resource officers, who are trained as peace officers, can arrest on school grounds, and carry handcuffs, but no guns. Bullens himself is not a peace officer, although he is a retired police detective.
Bullens met with a police sergeant, and the two decided to bring bomb sniffing dogs to the scene, but nothing was found. They then allowed the students to come into the school gym, where Bullens, with the permission of the police department, offered a monetary reward for information about the person who made the threat. Bullens was informed by the school principal and school resource officer that L.G. had been identified as being involved.
Without consulting the police, Bullens directed the school resource officer to bring L.G. to the cafeteria for questioning. L.G. was not given the Miranda warnings, and he admitted to making the bomb threats. There were two uniformed police officers present during the questioning of L.G., but they did not participate in any way. After the questioning, L.G. was arrested and charged the next day with delinquency for inducing panic.
At his hearing, L.G. moved to suppress his statements on the grounds that he had not been Mirandized. The magistrate granted his motion, and the state objected. The juvenile court overruled the objections and upheld the magistrate’s decision. The court of appeals affirmed, in a split decision. The majority concluded that L.G. was in custody when being questioned, and that under the totality of the circumstances, Bullens was acting in conjunction with law enforcement during the questioning and therefore Miranda warnings were required here. The dissenting appellate judge would find that L.G. was not in custody during the interview and that Bullens was not acting as an agent of law enforcement during the questioning.
Justice O’Donnell’s Position
O’Donnell faults the Second District majority for misapplying the Court’s precedent, most recently articulated in State v. Jackson, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-2169, that only state law enforcement employees or those acting at their direction and behest have the duty to give Miranda warnings. Private citizens not directed or controlled by law enforcement have no such duty even if and when their efforts help law enforcement. To him, the evidence does not support the finding that Bullens was either a member of law enforcement or acting as an agent of law enforcement at the time of the interview. The simple duty of cooperation and sharing information with law enforcement was not enough to turn Bullens into an agent of law enforcement. Because Bullens and the police made joint decisions about the use of bomb-sniffing dogs and moving the students into the gym shows that Bullens was not acting at the direction or control of the police during this incident. Rather, Bullens was doing his job to ensure the safety of the students, not to ensure or enable the prosecution of L.G.
O’Donnell would reverse the judgment of the Second District as being contrary to Supreme Court precedent and remand the case to the juvenile court for further proceedings.
Justice French concurred with this dissenting opinion. Justice Kennedy dissented without opinion, and did not sign on to what Justice O’Donnell wrote.
I’m sorry the Court chose to punt on this, as I think this is a very timely and increasingly important issue in today’s world of school safety. Justice O’Donnell criticizes the majority for “not even issuing a ‘do not cite’ directive.” I’m glad the Court did not do that, because I agree with the majority opinion from the Second District that Miranda warnings should have been given in this situation. While only binding in the Second District, defense counsel will at least have this case in their arsenal. And it seems likely that a conflict will arise on this issue, which means the Court will get a chance to address it again, this time on the merits.
The Ohio high court also avoided the issue of the application of the exclusionary rule to a search by a school safety and security officer in State v. Polk, 2017-Ohio-2735. In that case, since the search by the safety and security officer of a book bag left on a school bus was upheld, the Court didn’t need to reach the issue.