Supreme Court hears argument in Miranda, right to counsel cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in JDB v. North Carolina [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on whether a court should consider a juvenile's age when determining whether the individual is in custody for purposes of the Miranda warning as set forth in Miranda v. Arizona [opinion text]. In this case, the juvenile student made incriminating statements to two law enforcement officers after being removed from a classroom, and the Supreme Court of North Carolina held [opinion, PDF] that the student was not in custody when he made the statements and therefore not entitled to the protections of Miranda or North Carolina statute 7B-2101(a) [text]. Attorneys for JDB argue [brief, PDF] that age is an objective factor that must be included in the objective test for determining whether an individual would feel free to stop the questioning and leave the area. Among the factors to be considered in this case, according to JDB's attorneys, is that JDB at the time was 13 years old, he had been pulled from class, and he was questioned in a room with two police officers, the principal, and the principal's assistant. Counsel for JDB relied heavily on the Supreme Court's opinions in In re Gault [opinion text], which extended Miranda protections to juveniles, and Gallegos v. Colorado [opinion text], in which the court stated that a 14-year-old child is "unable to know how to protect his own interests or how to get the benefits of his constitutional rights." The state argues [brief, PDF] that the petitioner's argument employs a subjective, rather than objective, test which does not comport with Supreme Court jurisprudence on the Miranda warning. Including age in the evaluation would, in the state's view, complicate the job of police as they question individuals. The state contends in its brief that age is a subjective factor, similar to emotional state or level of intoxication in its effect on whether the individual under questioning would feel free to leave.

In Turner v. Rogers [oral arguments transcript; JURIST report], the court will consider whether an indigent individual has a Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment [text] right to counsel in a civil contempt proceeding, where the result of such proceeding was the defendant's imprisonment. The petitioner, Michael Turner, was found to be in civil contempt for failure to pay court-ordered child support payments. Turner's attorneys argue [brief, PDF] that the court did not inform Turner of his right to counsel, and that any competent attorney would have been able to successfully argue that Turner's indigence, a complete defense to a contempt for failure to pay, would have kept Turner out of jail. The state argues [brief, PDF] that the right to counsel only applies in criminal contempt proceedings, but Turner's attorneys argue that here, where the incarceration is punitive and not merely a coercion to recoup the outstanding support payments, Turner is entitled to counsel. The state's argument involves a significant amount of policy background on the problems facing individuals who cannot recover court-ordered support payments, and that theme was reflected in the opening statements of the custodial parent's counsel. A sizable portion of respondent's argument time, however, devolved into matters of procedure and whether certain matters that were discussed, particularly whether the case implicates procedural Due Process, were within the scope of the question presented.

 

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