Generally, custody occurs under Miranda when a suspect is handcuffed even if the suspect is not informed that he or she is under arrest for a crime. However, there are exceptions, as evidenced by the recent North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling in State v. Barnes (July 19, 2016), which is the subject of this post. Continue reading
Tag Archives: custody
Probably the most litigated issue involving Miranda v. Arizona is the meaning of custody under its ruling that requires law enforcement officers to give prescribed warnings when conducting custodial interrogation. My last post (May 24, 2016), available here, discussed the custody issue involving traffic stops. Since then there have been three published North Carolina appellate cases on the custody issue in other contexts, which will be the focus of this post. Continue reading →
The 50th anniversary of the landmark ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), will occur in a few weeks on June 13. As everyone knows, the case required a set of warnings and waiver of rights before a statement obtained during custodial interrogation could be introduced during the government’s presentation of its evidence at trial. The case spawned many thousands of appellate cases throughout federal and state courts. And the United States Supreme Court has issued several rulings that have clarified, extended, or confined Miranda’s scope.
This post will briefly review the meaning of custody during traffic stops by focusing on the Supreme Court’s most significant opinion on this issue: Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984). [For a discussion of all significant aspects of Miranda, see the text on pages 534-52 and case summaries on pages 578-640 of Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina (4th ed. 2011), and pages 87-89 (text) and 95-100 (case summaries) of the 2015 supplement.] Continue reading →
Nearly five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided J.D.B. v. North Carolina, a case arising from the police interrogation of a middle school student in Chapel Hill. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that police officers must consider a juvenile’s age when determining whether they must read juveniles their Miranda rights before questioning them. The ruling represents a major shift in Miranda jurisprudence by establishing a different standard for evaluating police interrogations of juveniles – the reasonable child standard. In the years since J.D.B., however, lower courts have not clearly defined how the reasonable child standard impacts the assessment of whether a juvenile was “in custody.” The application of this new standard also raises questions about how North Carolina courts evaluate custody determinations in the school setting. These and other issues are addressed in “Applying the Reasonable Child Standard to Juvenile Interrogations After J.D.B. v. North Carolina” (No. 2016/01), a new Juvenile Law Bulletin. Continue reading →
Under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), before an officer may begin a custodial interrogation of a suspect, the officer must advise the suspect of certain rights, such as the right to remain silent. One might think that when an officer questions a jail or prison inmate, the setting is necessarily custodial. The case of Mathis v. United States, 391 U. S. 1 (1968), can be read to support that conclusion. However, the recent case of Maryland v. Shatzer, __ U.S. __, 130 S. Ct. 1213 (2010), which I discussed here, suggested otherwise. Yesterday, the Court addressed the issue head on in Howes v. Fields.
The facts of the case, drawn from the Court’s syllabus, are as follows:
Fields, a Michigan [jail inmate, who was serving a sentence as opposed to awaiting trial], was escorted from his . . . cell by a corrections officer to a conference room where he was questioned by two sheriff’s deputies about [a sex crime he had allegedly committed against a child] before coming to [jail]. At no time was Fields given Miranda warnings or advised that he did not have to speak with the deputies. As relevant here: Fields was questioned for between five and seven hours; Fields was told more than once that he was free to leave and return to his cell; the deputies were armed, but Fields remained free of restraints; the conference room door was sometimes open and sometimes shut; several times during the interview Fields stated that he no longer wanted to talk to the deputies, but he did not ask to go back to his cell; after Fields confessed and the interview concluded, he had to wait an additional 20 minutes for an escort and returned to his cell well after the hour when he generally retired.
The defendant was subsequently charged with a sex offense. He moved to suppress his statements, alleging a Miranda violation, but the trial court denied the motion, finding that he was not in custody during the interview. The defendant was convicted, and his appeals in state court were unsuccessful. He sought, and initially obtained, federal habeas relief. The Supreme Court then reversed, agreeing with the state courts that the defendant was not in custody when he was questioned.
In an opinion written by Justice Alito, the Court specifically rejected the lower federal courts’ conclusion that an inmate is always in custody when questioned in private about crimes allegedly committed outside jail or prison. For three reasons, it rejected the idea that incarceration always carries with it the pressures Miranda was designed to combat:
First, questioning a person who is already serving a prison term does not generally involve the shock that very often accompanies arrest. . . . Second, a prisoner, unlike a person who has not been sentenced to a term of incarceration, is unlikely to be lured into speaking by a longing for prompt release. . . . Third, a prisoner, unlike a person who has not been convicted and sentenced, knows that the law enforcement officers who question him probably lack the authority to affect the duration of his sentence.
Applying a totality of the circumstances analysis, the Court found that the defendant was not in custody. It especially emphasized that he “was told at the outset of the interrogation, and was reminded again thereafter, that he could leave and go back to his cell whenever he wanted,” but also noted that the conference room door was sometimes open, that the defendant was not restrained, and that he was offered food and drink. The Court determined that a reasonable person in such circumstances would have felt comfortable terminating the interview and asking to return to his cell.
Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, dissented. (Technically, they concurred in part, but the partial concurrence concerns federal habeas issues I’ve omitted because they’re not relevant to the central issue.) She criticized the majority’s “custody within custody” approach, and argued that the defendant was interrogated in a police-dominated environment and should have been given Miranda warnings. She highlighted the fact that the defendant’s statements that he did not want to talk to the officers were ignored.
The basic holding of Fields – that incarceration isn’t always “custody” for Miranda purposes – isn’t surprising after Shatzer, but it is still significant. Note, however, that Fields repeatedly distinguishes inmates who are serving a sentence from those in pretrial custody. There’s nothing in Fields to support the idea that a pretrial detainee isn’t in custody, or that pretrial incarceration constitutes a “break in custody” for Shatzer purposes.
As I noted last week, the Supreme Court of the United States just decided J.D.B. v. North Carolina, an important Miranda case. I blogged about the case here when it was decided by the state supreme court, and it’s worth taking another look at it now.
I previously summarized the facts as follows:
Chapel Hill police suspected a seventh-grade student, who participated in special education classes, of breaking into several houses. An investigator went to the juvenile’s school and had him removed from class and escorted to a conference room by a school resource officer. The investigator questioned the juvenile in the presence of the SRO, the assistant principal, and an intern. The door of the conference room where the interview took place was closed but not locked. The juvenile was not given Miranda warnings or the “juvenile Miranda” warnings required prior to custodial interrogations by G.S. 7B-2101, and he made incriminating statements. He was allowed to leave and catch the bus home, but later was charged. He moved to suppress his statements based on the lack of Miranda and statutory warnings.
The district court judge denied the motion, and the court of appeals and the state supreme court affirmed in divided opinions. In the appellate courts, the key issue was whether the juvenile’s age should have been considered when determining whether he was in custody for Miranda purposes. (As most readers know, the Miranda warnings must be administered to a suspect when a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would conclude that he or she was under arrest or the functional equivalent thereof.) A majority of both state appellate courts held that the answer was no.
The highest court in the land held otherwise, in a 5-4 decision that split along ideological lines. Justice Kennedy was the swing vote, and, as the senior Justice in the majority, assigned the opinion. He assigned it to Justice Sotomayor, a former prosecutor.
The Court held that “a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis,” so long as the child’s age is known to police or reasonably apparent. It noted that children are “more susceptible to influence . . . and outside pressures” than adults, making the Miranda warnings important in a broader range of settings. And it suggested that it required no more than common sense for officers and judges to take a suspect’s age into consideration when deciding whether a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would feel as though he or she were under arrest or the equivalent.
Justice Alito wrote the dissent. He argued that taking age into account would undermine the clarity of the Miranda rule; would be difficult for officer and judges to apply in practice; and would open the door to the consideration of innumerable other personal characteristics, such as intelligence and education level. He also suggested that especially young suspects would be protected by the rule against admitting involuntary confessions.
A few thoughts and comments about the case. First, it isn’t a complete win for the juvenile. The majority didn’t conclude that he was in custody. Instead, it remanded to the state courts for further consideration, factoring the juvenile’s age into the custody analysis. Second, it’s not completely clear whether the case creates two standards (one for adults, one for juveniles), or, in effect, a sliding scale (for juveniles of different ages). Sometimes the majority talks about “children generally,” “children characteristically,” and “children as a class,” suggesting the former, but I believe that the latter is closer to the mark. The majority expressly points out that it is not saying that “a child’s age will be a determinative, or even a significant, factor in every case,” and illustrates the point with reference to juveniles nearing age 18. (It also states that “a 7-year-old is not a 13-year-old and neither is an adult.”) Third, Justice Alito is certainly correct that this decision will prompt further litigation about suspects’ personal characteristics. As I noted in my earlier post, “the implications extend also to other categories of people who might be especially prone to believe that interactions with the police are effectively compulsory, such as those with limited intellectual functioning, those with mental illnesses, and those who have limited proficiency in English.” Perhaps there are few characteristics that are both as readily apparent and as significant as a suspect’s age, or perhaps there are many. We’ll find out in future cases.
If you have additional thoughts about J.D.B., please let me know or post a comment. If you’d like to read the New York Times article about the decision, it’s here.
I blogged here about In re J.D.B., a juvenile case in which the North Carolina Supreme Court held that a 13-year-old, questioned in an unlocked school conference room by police officers and an assistant principal about the student’s role in several residential break-ins, was not in custody for Miranda purposes. The court stated that “[f]or a student in the school setting to be deemed in custody, law enforcement must subject the student to restraint on freedom of movement that goes well beyond the limitations that are characteristic of the school environment in general.” It found no such additional restraint. Nor did the court accept the juvenile’s argument that his youth and the fact that he was a special education student were relevant to whether or not he was in custody. it “decline[d] to extend the test for custody to include consideration of [personal characteristics, such as] the age and academic standing of an individual subjected to questioning by police.”
It’s a fascinating case that divided the state supreme court and the court of appeals. According to this order, entered yesterday, the United States Supreme Court is going to review it. The question presented in the petition for certiorari is as follows:
WHETHER A COURT MAY CONSIDER A JUVENILE’S AGE IN A MIRANDA CUSTODY ANALYSIS IN EVALUATING THE TOTALITY OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND DETERMINING WHETHER A REASONABLE PERSON IN THE JUVENILE’S POSITION WOULD HAVE FELT HE OR SHE WAS NOT FREE TO TERMINATE POLICE QUESTIONING AND LEAVE?
In an interesting coincidence, the court of appeals just decided In re K.D.L., another juvenile Miranda case with similar facts. The court properly acknowledged In re J.D.B., though it characterized the relevance of personal characteristics to the custody inquiry as the subject of a “split of authority,” and distinguished In re J.D.B. in a way that might be read as expressing polite skepticism about some of the conclusions reached in that case. Stay tuned for further developments.
I used to answer this question “no.” But even though the United States Supreme Court recently said exactly that, see Maryland v. Shatzer, __ U.S. __, 130 S. Ct. 1213 (2010) (“[T]he temporary and relatively nonthreatening detention involved in a traffic stop or Terry stop does not constitute Miranda custody.”), I think the correct answer is “sometimes.”
I’ll start off with why I’ve been saying “no.” I based my answer on cases like State v. Sutton, 167 N.C. App. 242 (2004) (“The mere fact that Officer Sojack performed an investigative stop of defendant and then patted him down did not result in defendant being ‘in custody’ for purposes of Miranda.”), and United States v. Leshuk, 65 F.3d 1105 (4th Cir. 1995) (holding that Terry stops do not amount to custody, and stating that “drawing weapons, handcuffing a suspect, placing a suspect in a patrol car for questioning, or using or threatening to use force does not necessarily elevate a lawful stop into a custodial arrest for Miranda purposes”). Further, the United States Supreme Court has held that traffic stops generally are not custodial, Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), and our appellate courts have held that this is so even when the driver is ordered out of his vehicle and frisked, State v. Benjamin, 124 N.C. App. 734 (1996). Given the similarity between Terry stops and traffic stops, this seemed to me to provide further support for the idea that Terry stops were categorically, or at least almost categorically, noncustodial.
My opinion now, however, is that some Terry stops are custodial, so answering the Miranda question requires examining exactly how a particular stop was conducted. Generally, a suspect is in Miranda custody if the suspect is under arrest or its functional equivalent. The mere fact that the suspect is not free to leave does not mean that the suspect is in custody. After all, a driver who is the subject of a traffic stop is not free to leave, but the cases are clear that such a person is not normally in custody. However, some Terry stops involve very significant restraints on freedom. The court of appeals has noted that “the permissible scope of a Terry stop has expanded in the past few decades,” allowing police to use handcuffs, detain suspects in police vehicles, and use “other forms of force typically used during an arrest.” State v. Campbell, 188 N.C. App. 701 (2008) (quoting Longshore v. State, 924 A.2d 1129 (Md. 2007)).
Against this backdrop, it is worth observing that the federal courts are divided about whether Terry stops can ever be custodial, though the affirmative view appears to be gaining ground. Compare Leshuk, supra (concluding that the answer is no, even for very forceful stops), with United States v. Newton, 369 F.3d 659 (2d Cir. 2004) (holding that a handcuffed suspect was in custody for Miranda purposes even though he was told that he was not under arrest, arguing that whether a detention is properly classified as a Terry stop is “irrelevant” to the Miranda analysis, and noting the split of authority on this issue), and United States v. Martinez, 462 F.3d 903 (8th Cir. 2006) (holding that a suspect who was frisked, handcuffed, and questioned was subject to a Terry stop and not arrested, yet was in custody for Miranda purposes).
The situation is somewhat clearer in North Carolina. Sutton notwithstanding, our appellate courts have decided several cases in which investigative stops have been found to be custodial. See State v. Washington, 330 N.C. 188 (1991) (defendant was in custody when, during a traffic stop, he was placed in the back seat of a police car; he could not leave the car, so he was effectively “incarcerated on the side of the road”); State v. Johnston, 154 N.C. App. 500 (2002) (defendant was in custody when he was “ordered out of his vehicle at gun point, handcuffed, placed in the back of a patrol car, and questioned by detectives” about a shooting, even though he was told that he was not under arrest). Cf. State v. Torres, 330 N.C. 517 (1992) (defendant in custody when, after shooting her husband, she was escorted to the sheriff’s office, kept under constant supervision, and not told that she was free to leave). The most recent case on point, and the one that got me thinking about this issue, is In re L.I., where the court of appeals held, following Johnston, that a juvenile was in custody when an officer placed her in “investigative detention,” in handcuffs, in his police vehicle.
The bottom line is one that you are not likely ever to see again on this blog: never mind what the Supreme Court just said, a Terry stop that is conducted in a way that is particularly restrictive may amount to custody under Miranda. The cases suggest that a finding of custody is more likely when the suspect is handcuffed, placed in a police vehicle, or subjected to an unusual display of force, such as the drawing of weapons or the involvement of a very large number of officers.
The United States Supreme Court has decided two Miranda cases in the past two days. The prosecution won both cases.
Tuesday, the Court decided Florida v. Powell. In Powell, the defendant was arrested, apparently for robbery. Before questioning him, the police told him, inter alia, that “[y]ou have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions” and that “[y]ou have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.” The defendant agreed to talk, admitted to owning a gun the officers had found during the course of the arrest, and was ultimately charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The defendant moved to suppress his statement, citing the language in Miranda requiring that a suspect “be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation.” Specifically, he contended that the police only told him that he could talk to a lawyer before questioning, but failed to advise him that he could have a lawyer present during the interrogation. The trial court didn’t buy the defendant’s argument, and he was convicted at trial. On appeal, the state intermediate appellate court and the Florida Supreme Court concluded otherwise, finding that the warnings were inadequate.
The United States Supreme Court disagreed. (The vote was 7-2, with Justice Ginsburg writing for the Court and Justices Stevens and Breyer dissenting.) It stated that it has never “dictated words” or a “precise formulation” that must be used to administer the Miranda warnings, and it found that the warnings here “reasonably conveyed [the defendant’s] right to have an attorney present, not only at the outset of interrogation, but at all times.” The Court rejected the notion that law enforcement agencies would read its decision as an invitation to make their Miranda warnings ambiguous, doubting that officers would think the benefits of such a course worth the risk of suppression. I tend to agree with that, so I doubt that the effect of Powell will be very far-reaching.
Yesterday, the Court decided Maryland v. Shatzer, a case that is likely more significant. The defendant in Shatzer was in prison for crime X when an officer came to interview him about unrelated crime Y. The officer read him his Miranda rights, and he invoked his right to counsel. Two and a half years passed. A new officer decided to make another run at the interview. The defendant was still in prison. The new officer again read him his Miranda rights, but this time, the defendant waived his rights and made incriminating statements. He did the same at another interview a few days later. He was charged with crime Y, and moved to suppress the incriminating statements, arguing that under Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), because he invoked his right to counsel when the first officer approached him, the second officer was not permitted to initiate contact, and his waiver of his Miranda rights was invalid.
The trial court disagreed, and the defendant was tried and convicted. The state appellate court reversed, holding that ““the passage of time alone is insufficient to [end] the protections afforded by Edwards,” and finding that, because the defendant remained in prison between the two interviews, there was no “break in custody” that might have attenuated the defendant’s rights under Edwards.
The Supreme Court, more-or-less unanimously (opinion by Justice Scalia, with six other Justices concurring, and Justices Thomas and Stevens concurring in the judgment), reversed the state court. The Court began by finding that when there has been a substantial “break in custody,” the reasons behind the Edwards rule lose their force:
When . . . a suspect has been released from his pretrial custody and has returned to his normal life for some time before the later attempted interrogation, there is little reason to think that his change of heart regarding interrogation without counsel has been coerced. He has no longer been isolated. He has likely been able to seek advice from an attorney, family members, and friends. And he knows from his earlier experience that he need only demand counsel to bring the interrogation to a halt; and that investigative custody does not last indefinitely. In these circumstances, it is far fetched to think that a police officer’s asking the suspect whether he would like to waive his Miranda rights [is coercive].
Of course, a break in custody that lasts only a short time might not have these effects. So, for the sake of establishing a bright-line rule, the Court held that a 14-day break in custody is the point at which the police may again attempt to approach a defendant. The defendant then argued that there was no break in custody, in that he remained in prison between the interviews. But the Court rejected this argument too, finding that the defendant’s return to the general prison population ended his time in custody for Miranda purposes:
When they are released back into the general prison population, [inmates] return to their accustomed surroundings and daily routine—they regain the degree of control they had over their lives prior to the interrogation. Sentenced prisoners, in contrast to the Miranda paradigm, are not isolated with their accusers. They live among other inmates, guards, and workers, and often can receive visitors and communicate with people on the outside by mail or telephone.
Based on the foregoing, the Court found nothing improper about the second officer’s decision to approach the defendant, and determined that the defendant’s statements were not subject to suppression. Because it resolved the case in that way, the Court didn’t reach another argument advanced by the state — that the two-and-a-half year time lapse renders Edwards inapplicable even assuming that there was no break in custody. That issue will come up again, I’m sure.
A useful summary of the two decisions is here, though it may be redundant if you’ve made it this far through this post. Of course, reading the opinions themselves — or at least the syllabi — is the way to go if you can make the time. I may have some additional thoughts after I’ve spent a little more time with the cases myself. If so, I’ll post an update. If you have thoughts or reactions, please post a comment.
The North Carolina Supreme Court recently decided In re J.D.B., a close and interesting juvenile case. I mentioned it briefly here when it divided the court of appeals. It has implications well beyond the juvenile context, which I’ll unpack at the end of this post.
The basic facts are as follows: Chapel Hill police suspected a seventh-grade student, who participated in special education classes, of breaking into several houses. An investigator went to the juvenile’s school and had him removed from class and escorted to a conference room by a school resource officer. The investigator questioned the juvenile in the presence of the SRO, the assistant principal, and an intern. The door of the conference room where the interview took place was closed but not locked. The juvenile was not given Miranda warnings or the “juvenile Miranda” warnings required prior to custodial interrogations by G.S. 7B-2101, and he made incriminating statements. He was allowed to leave and catch the bus home, but later was charged. He moved to suppress his statements based on the lack of Miranda and statutory warnings.
The trial court found that such warnings were not required because the interview was not custodial. The court of appeals affirmed 2-1. The majority and the dissent agreed that whether the juvenile was in custody depends on whether a reasonable person in the juvenile’s circumstances would have believed that he was under arrest or subject to a degree of restraint typically associated with an arrest. The two opinions disagreed about whether the “reasonable person” in question should share the juvenile’s personal characteristics, such as his age and the fact that he was enrolled in special education classes. The dissent thought that those characteristics were relevant, and argued, in effect, that a reasonable seventh grade special education student would have felt compelled to respond to questions in the setting described above. The majority believed that those characteristics were not relevant, and that a reasonable person would not have believed he was de facto under arrest given that he was not handcuffed, the door was not locked, and the interview was relatively brief.
Because the court of appeals was split, the juvenile was entitled to review by the supreme court. The supreme court affirmed 4-3. The majority and the dissent differed on two crucial points. First, the majority concluded, based on a suggestion in Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652 (2004), that the custody issue must be resolved without reference to the juvenile’s personal characteristics. (It noted, however, that such characteristics are relevant to the question of whether a person has knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights under Miranda.) Second, the majority held that custody, in a school context, requires a substantial restraint of liberty beyond what is inherent in the school setting. Based in part on those two premises, the majority ruled that the juvenile was not in custody, because the door was not locked or guarded, the investigator asked the juvenile if he was willing to answer questions rather than ordering him to do so, and in fact, the investigator eventually let the juvenile go.
Justice Brady’s dissent argued that the juvenile’s personal characteristics are relevant to the custody inquiry, and suggested that the investigator sought a “tactical advantage” by questioning the juvenile at school in a formal setting, with the adults dressed either in police uniforms or in business attire. Justice Hudson, joined by Justice Timmons-Goodson, took a similar position. She observed that Yarborough was no more than a suggestion and argued that the standard for what counts as “custody” should be lower, not higher, at school because it is a structured environment. She would have held that the interview was custodial given that the juvenile was “escorted” to it and in light of the large number of adults involved and the formality of the setting.
The importance of this case in the juvenile context is apparent: it gives the green light to conducting juvenile investigations at school, and suggests that most interactions between the police and students conducted at school will be viewed as non-custodial by the courts. But the implications extend also to other categories of people who might be especially prone to believe that interactions with the police are effectively compulsory, such as those with limited intellectual functioning, those with mental illnesses, and those who have limited proficiency in English. Consider, for example, a borderline mentally retarded defendant, stopped on the street by three officers and questioned about a crime. Before J.D.B., such a defendant might have argued that even if a person with an average IQ would have recognized the interaction as a noncustodial Terry stop, a reasonable borderline mentally retarded person would have viewed it as indistinguishable from an arrest, making it custodial for Miranda purposes. After J.D.B., that argument appears to be a loser.