Justices Decline to Hear Case on Student’s ‘Extracted Confession’

By Mark Walsh — April 27, 2009 2 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of a Kentucky family over a school’s handling of a middle school student who gave a prescription Adderall pill to one of her classmates.

The refusal to take up S.E. v. Grant County Board of Education (Case No. 08-927) is not a ruling on the merits, but it is interesting because the justices often hold on to appeals that raise the same or similar issues to cases they are deciding. Just last week, the court heard arguments in Safford Unified School District v. Redding, about whether the Fourth Amendment bars a strip-search of a middle school student by school personnel looking for contraband prescription drugs.

In the Kentucky case, a 7th grade student identified in court papers as A.E. went to the school nurse on the last day of school in 2006 to get take her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medication. Because it was the last day, the nurse insisted that the student take the prescription bottle, which had four Adderall pills remaining, with her.

Later in the day, another student asked A.E. for one of the pills, and after initially refusing, A.E. relented and gave her friend a pill. This eventually got back to school officials, who called A.E. into the office the next fall and made her write out an account of what happened. The deputy principal turned the statement over to a sheriff’s deputy, as the district contends was required under state law. The girl ended up in juvenile court, charged with trafficking controlled substances within 1,000 feet of school property. She was required to complete a diversion program.

The student and her parents sued the Grant County school district and various officials, alleging that their actions violated the girl’s rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because officials essentialy coerced a confession out of her.

In an opinion last October, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, held that the girl’s rights were not violated. The court held that the student was not seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment when she was forced to come to the school office. And the assistant principal was not acting at the behest of law enforcement when he required A.E. to write her statement, the court said.

In their Supreme Court appeal, the family said the case raised important questions about the rights of students when they are summoned to school offices for questioning and when statements extracted by school administrators are turned over to law enforcement officials without the usual Fifth Amendment protections from self-incrimination.

But in a brief urging the justices not to take up the case, the school district said there was no conflict among the federal circuit courts in this area of the law.

“The great weight of authority does not require school officials who question students to give those students a Miranda warning prior to questioning them about a violation of a school rule that might constitute a violation of a civil law,” the district’s brief says. “School officials are not law enforcement officers.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.