A look at Senate Bill 203 after Wednesday’s threat to spa schools

Following Wednesday’s threat at three schools in Thermal, it took several hours for the sheriff’s department and CVUSD to provide information about what was happening to concerned parents.

Related story: 2 students detained, weapon found after threat at school CVUSD

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco apologized for the delay and said it was difficult to get the information out any faster.

“Our legislature has made it illegal for us [Sheriff’s Dept] to talk to minors. So we can’t get the information that we normally got in the past about the safety of other students, about other students who might be involved. And so it’s a very long and painstaking process that we have to go through to make sure the rest of our campus and the rest of our students are safe.”

– Sheriff Chad Bianco

Bianco refers to Senate Bill 203which was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2020.

SB 203 extends Miranda rights protections to minors 17 and under. Detained minors have the right to consult a lawyer and to be informed of their Miranda rights before being questioned by law enforcement.

Miranda’s rights protect the “constitutional right against self-incrimination and the right to remain silent”.

Prior to SB 203, there was another California bill, SB 395, which was approved in October 2017, which required a youth 15 or younger to see an attorney. SB 203 extended these rights to minors 17 and under.

Other local law enforcement say it can be a challenge:

“The challenge is that we don’t have the ability to deal, to interact with someone who is currently in custody, who has the ability to waive rights and provide the statement,” said Lt. Gustavo Araiza of the Palm Springs Police Department.

When Bill 203 was introduced, its author, Senator Steven Bradford, said:

“Most adults don’t have any legal training. And on top of that, many of us don’t even fully understand our legal rights when interacting with law enforcement…Young people need to know their rights and they should not be alone when questioned.”

Bianco said he disagreed with the bill.

“It’s quite honestly, it’s an awful bill… The way lawmakers drafted the bill, and the way they discussed it, and the way they passed it, it was meant to interfere with law enforcement’s investigation to protect the suspect,” Bianco said.

Bianco said he supports the way the situation has been handled and will continue to work with the Coachella Valley Unified School District.

“I can’t really say we did anything wrong, other than maybe some aspects of the notification, but we will work with the school on this and hope to get a better response from them next time” , said Bianco.

Norman D. Briggs