Delinquency findings upheld against student who threatened to bomb school

The Marion Superior Court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted incriminating statements from a 13-year-old who threatened to bomb his school, the Indiana Court of Appeals has found, because the in-school interrogation of the student did not trigger a Miranda warning.

In B.A. v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1606-JV-1474, a janitor at Decatur Middle School reported finding a written message on a school bathroom wall that threatened a bomb attack on the school in March 2016. Officer Paul Tutsie with the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township School Police Department narrowed the message down to two suspects, including 13-year-old B.A.

As part of Tutsie’s investigation, B.A. was removed from his bus, brought into the vice principal’s office for questioning and was asked to complete a handwriting sample. School officials determined from that sample that B.A. was the one who had written the threat. B.A. then started to cry and said he didn’t know why he had written the threat, but that it was meant as a joke.

B.A. was expelled from the school, arrested and charged as a delinquent child for false reporting, an act that would be a Level 6 felony if committed by an adult, and institutional criminal mischief, and act that would be a Class A misdemeanor if committed by an adult. B.A. moved to suppress the statements he had made in the principal’s office on the basis of a violation of his Miranda rights, but the Marion Superior Court denied his motion because the questioning was led by a school official, not a police officer.

The court entered true findings against B.A. on both allegations, prompting his appeal. B.A. argued the trial court abused its discretion in admitting his inculpatory statements as evidence, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the true findings in a Wednesday opinion.

B.A. based his claim of an abuse of discretion on the case of S.G. v. State, 956 N.E. 2d 668, 674 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011). Judge Elaine Brown, writing for the appellate panel, noted the decision in S.G. held that “under certain circumstances a police officer’s presence in conjunction with a school official’s questioning may be significant enough to constitute the type of setting that we would characterize as custodial.” However, in B.A.’s case, Brown wrote that the officers did not ask him any questions other than to direct him to take the handwriting test, a directive given at the vice principal’s request.

“There is no evidence that B.A. was made aware of Officer Tutsie’s investigation or of Officer Tutsie’s advice to remove him from the bus,” Brown wrote. “Had these actions been conveyed in some fashion to B.A., however, they would then become relevant to the analysis.”

“Again, although we recognize that circumstances may exist in which questioning by a school administrator coupled with the presence of police officers require the officers to administer Miranda warnings,” Brown continued, “we do not believe that these facts so required.”

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