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Michigan appeals court says student suspect denied Miranda rights

The Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing.
Rick Pluta
The Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing.

A Munising teenager was improperly questioned by a junior high school principal and a top police official during a school lockdown without being informed of his right to an attorney and, as a result, that interview cannot be used against him in a criminal case that includes a charge of making threats of terrorism, according to a unanimous opinion issued Wednesday by a three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel.

The 13-year-old was called to the school office, where he was questioned regarding a threatening video that was shared among a group of friends. This was shortly after the Oxford High School shooting. The boy was later charged with three crimes, including making a threat of terrorism.

The case dates back to December 9, 2021, just a few days following the Oxford High School shooting. The school in the Upper Peninsula was placed on lockdown after a threatening note was found in the bathroom, according to the facts as laid out in the Court of Appeals opinion. During the lockdown, a video was shared with school staff that showed the teenager, identified only as NC, pointing a shotgun at the camera and showing a text reading “be ready tmrw.”

The teen was pulled from his classroom and brought to the principal’s office to be questioned. The boy’s father was also called in. But the opinion said no one was ever informed the boy was in legal jeopardy and had the right to have an attorney present.

“These facts sufficiently support that (Munising Chief of Police Robert) Nelson subjected NC to a custodial interrogation,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Elizabeth Gleicher. “Specifically, the location of the interview, NC’s young age, the manner in which the interview was initiated and conducted, the school’s lockdown, and the failure to inform NC that he was free to leave or free to refuse to answer Nelson’s questions support that NC was in police custody.”

Efforts to reach the police chief or a school spokesperson were not successful.

“This is an important decision about the rights of children when they’re being subjected to police interviews,” said Dan Korobkin, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, which is not a party to the case.

“When someone is on trial and the evidence that the prosecution is seeking to introduce against that person was obtained unconstitutionally, then that evidence needs to be suppressed,” he told Michigan Public Radio. “That’s what happened here.”

The Michigan Attorney General’s office emailed a statement that it is considering its next move.

“At this time, the Department is reviewing the opinion for possible further action,” reads the statement.

One option is appealing the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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