The Law of Disposable Children: Interrogations in Schools

51 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2023

See all articles by Tonja Jacobi

Tonja Jacobi

Emory University School of Law

Riley Clafton

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Date Written: March 20, 2023


Children are uniquely vulnerable to interrogation by authority figures, yet the Supreme Court has failed to meaningfully regulate interrogation of children in the school context, allowing school personnel unfettered access even when questioning children about crimes. This has left lower courts to define the Fifth Amendment rights of schoolchildren, which they have largely done by crafting permissive rules that allow for interrogations that would be unconstitutional if conducted against adult criminal suspects. This permissiveness includes reading down the Supreme Court’s sole precedent protective of juvenile suspects, J.D.B. v. North Carolina. This Article describes the minimal attention the Supreme Court has given to the issue and then catalogs the doctrinal patterns that have emerged throughout the nation’s lower courts in response to that doctrinal void. Students are subjected to interrogations without Miranda protections—even when involving police officers and when highly invasive—and with sometimes tragic results, including student suicide.

Even this doctrinal evaluation understates the problem because the vast majority of interrogations of schoolchildren do not receive any sort of court review. We interview experts working on issues relating to school students’ lives and educations to see how the jurisprudence impacts students on the ground. These experts—representing both schools and schoolchildren, as well as independent parties such as judges and parole officers—all tell a consistent story: one of schoolchildren being subject to coercive interrogations without basic protections. The impact on children’s lives can be devastating, including being caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline and exclusion from all schooling options for years. It is imperative that the Supreme Court step in to protect the most basic rights of our most vulnerable. This Article is the third in a series examining Supreme Court, lower court, and state school actors’ treatment of children in schools: together, they show that school searches and school discipline, combined with school interrogations, create a body of law that often treats children as disposable.

Suggested Citation

Jacobi, Tonja and Clafton, Riley, The Law of Disposable Children: Interrogations in Schools (March 20, 2023). Forthcoming, Alabama Law Review, Vol. 75, 2024, Available at SSRN: or

Tonja Jacobi (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Riley Clafton

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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