Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Watson (October 18, 2016) ruled that an officer’s erroneous completion of a juvenile waiver of rights form did not bar the admissibility of the juvenile’s confession. This post will discuss North Carolina statutory law concerning juvenile warnings and rights and the Watson ruling. Continue reading
Tag Archives: miranda
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 →
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 →
The United States Supreme Court and North Carolina appellate courts have ruled that a defendant must make an unambiguous request for counsel under Miranda to bar an officer’s custodial interrogation. A week ago, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Taylor (April 19, 2016), ruled that the defendant did not make an unambiguous request for counsel under Miranda. This post provides the background to this issue and discusses the Taylor ruling. 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 →
Most drivers stopped on suspicion of impaired driving are asked to submit to field sobriety tests before they are arrested. Those tests often include the three standardized tests, which researchers have found to enhance officers’ ability to accurately identify impairment: the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus tests. Officers sometimes use other types of field tests that have not been validated, such as asking participants to recite the alphabet or to conduct counting exercises. Evidence gained from any of these pre-arrest tests may be admitted against the defendant at trial without running afoul of the Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination. That’s because suspects aren’t in custody for purposes of the Fifth Amendment or Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) when they are temporarily detained for a traffic stop and are asked a moderate number of stop-related questions. Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 440 (1984); State v. Braswell, 222 N.C. App. 176 (2012). But what if the suspect is asked to perform field sobriety tests after he is arrested? Must he first be provided Miranda warnings? Continue reading →
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings. CNN reports that he “lies in a hospital with a gunshot wound to the side of his neck, sedated and intubated,” but that he could be put on a “sedation holiday” and brought back to consciousness to be questioned. This raises several issues.
Must he be given Miranda warnings? No. There is no free-standing requirement that police administer Miranda warnings to suspects. Such warnings generally are a prerequisite to using any subsequent statement against the suspect in court, but if authorities don’t care about the admissibility of any confession in light of what appears to be ample other evidence against Tsarnaev, the warnings need not be given. Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003).
Does the public safety exception to Miranda apply? Not clear. Some have suggested that Tsarnaev could be questioned without Miranda warnings, and that any resulting statements could still be admissible in court under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule. I wrote about that issue three years ago in connection with the attempted Times Square bombing. The posts are here and here. To summarize, the public safety exception has been applied so far only to very limited questioning in the first moments of interaction between police and a potentially dangerous suspect, e.g., “where’s your gun?” Maybe a court would expand it to encompass protracted questioning of a terrorism suspect, but that’s far from a slam dunk. Readers interested in further exposition of the public safety exception may wish to consult Robert L. Farb, Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina 535, 587-89 (4th ed. 2011).
Can he be held as an enemy combatant? I doubt it, but I’m not an expert. Some politicians and others have argued that Tsarnaev should be detained as an enemy combatant. For the reasons that follow, I doubt that’s proper, but this isn’t my bailiwick so I welcome additions and corrections from others who are more versed in the issue. As a starting point, this Wikipedia entry explains that the term “enemy combatant” lacks a precise legal meaning. Generally, though, it refers to a person who is detained under the laws of war, as opposed to a person detained in connection with civilian criminal law. Whether to classify Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant relates to the Miranda question because enemy combatants typically are not read Miranda rights, but it goes beyond that question insofar as they are typically tried, if at all, in military tribunals rather than civilian courts. To qualify as an enemy combatant, one generally must be a member or supporter of an enemy force, such as Al Qaeda or the Taliban. So far, it appears that Tsarnaev isn’t. The New York Times reports that “officials said they were increasingly certain that the two suspects had acted on their own,” and also states that “there is no known evidence suggesting” that Tsarnaev is linked to Al Qaeda or any other extremist group. Even if Tsarnaev can fairly be described as a member or supporter of an enemy force, there is a potential constitutional barrier to holding him as an enemy combatant. He is a naturalized American citizen, and while American citizens captured overseas may be held as enemy combatants under Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), it is not clear whether an American citizen captured in the United States may be.
However the questioning of Tsarnaev proceeds, I hope he decides to tell the police what he knows. It wouldn’t come close to making amends for what he appears to have done, of course, but it might help prevent similar tragedies in the future.
An Egyptian-American activist/columnist/media personality named Mona Eltahawy was recently arrested in New York while defacing a pro-Israel subway advertisement. The entire incident was captured on video and can be seen here.
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Professor Orin Kerr focuses on Ms. Eltahawy’s demand that the arresting officer tell her what she was being arrested for. (As far as I can tell from the video, the officer didn’t respond to the demand.) As Professor Kerr puts it: “On TV, the officer announces the arrest, announces the crime of arrest, and then reads the suspect Miranda rights. But these are not actually constitutionally required.” In Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146 (2004), the Court stated that “[w]hile it is assuredly good police practice to inform a person of the reason for his arrest at the time he is taken into custody, we have never held that to be constitutionally required.” And an arrestee must be informed of his or her Miranda rights only if the police want to undertake custodial interrogation, which, in many cases, is not on the officers’ immediate post-arrest agenda.
It’s a good discussion that clears up some common misapprehensions about the law. But I should add that in North Carolina, G.S. 15A-401(c)(1)c states that an arresting officer must, “[a]s promptly as is reasonable under the circumstances, inform the arrested person of the cause of the arrest, unless the cause appears to be evident.” The provision hasn’t been cited or discussed much, but at least one case suggests that an officer normally should answer a direct question about the basis of the arrest. In State v. Ladd, 308 N.C. 272 (1983), an officer arrested the defendant and the defendant asked, “What for?” The officer responded, “You know why.” The court stated that “the officer’s indirect response to defendant’s query as to why he was being arrested was in violation of G.S. 15A–401(c)(2)c” and that the officer “should have directly and truthfully answered defendant’s question at the time it was asked.” See generally State v. Kinch, 314 N.C. 99 (1985) (“Last, defendant [argues] that he was not read his ‘rights’ when he was arrested. It is not necessary to read a defendant the Miranda rights in order to make a lawful arrest. Defendant was advised by the arresting officers that he was being arrested on a charge of rape in compliance with N.C.G.S. 15A-401(c)(2)[c].”).
Officers, what’s your practice regarding when you notify an arrestee of the basis of the arrest? What do you think of the conduct depicted in the video? (The officer’s conduct, I mean. Ms. Eltahawy’s conduct really speaks for itself.)
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.