HELENA — A University of Montana campus police offer was wrong to continue to detain and question a student suspected of underage drinking at a football game without advising her of her right against self-incrimination, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled.
The court sent the case back to Missoula Municipal Court, saying the judge wrongly denied Marcy Kroschel’s motion to suppress evidence of her age and date of birth because the officer failed to advise Kroschel of her Miranda rights.
Anne Hamilton, an attorney with the Associated Students of the University of Montana’s Legal Services division, has said she sought clarity on state law after handling numerous similar minor in possession cases.
Kroschel was asked her name and date of birth at a UM football game in August 2015 after an officer saw her walking unsteadily and smelled alcohol on her.
Under state law, officers who suspect someone of being involved in criminal activity may ask for their name, address and an explanation of their actions.
The state argued the officer continued to question Kroschel after she initially gave an incorrect spelling of her last name and gave a false date of birth that indicated she was old enough to legally drink alcohol.
Assistant Attorney General Mark Fowler argued a name and birthdate are simply “biographical data,” which are not inherently incriminating information and should not have required a Miranda warning.
However, justices ruled Tuesday that after determining Kroschel and her friend did not require medical or other assistance, the sole purpose of continuing to question her was to confirm or dispel police suspicion that Kroschel was not old enough to drink and had obstructed a police officer by giving false information.
“Kroschel’s age and date of birth were directly incriminating under the circumstances of this case,” Justice Dirk Sandefur wrote.
Four justices said the campus police officer was within the law to keep questioning Kroschel after a search of the student directory and criminal justice databases didn’t turn up her misspelled name and false date of birth. However, the majority said the questioning shouldn’t have continued behind closed doors without her being advised of her rights.
Three justices who agreed with the decision to send the case back to Municipal Court argued the interaction should have ended when Kroschel provided a name and date of birth indicating she was over the age of 21, because at that point the officer had no information indicating she was underage, other than an “assumption that college students lie.”
The “extended investigatory stop detaining Kroschel was unconstitutional because MIP is a non-jailable offense and no special circumstances were present to justify detention,” Justice Ingrid Gustafson wrote.
Under an earlier Montana Supreme Court ruling, Gustafson argued the investigatory stop for MIP should have ended with the officer either citing Kroschel for MIP or letting her go.
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