Detention or Custody in State College DUI Investigation


In a recent blog, I discussed when police-citizen interactions are investigative detentions or custodial situations, and I reviewed a typical Penn State marijuana possession investigation to show both concepts in a practical situation. I also noted that the distinction between a mere encounter and custody can be important for 5th Amendment purposes, which most people associate as being Miranda rights. The Miranda issue that arises in a typical Penn State marijuana possession case also often arises in State College DUI cases.

Centre County DUI Case – Detention or Custody?

A Centre County judge recently had to determine whether a man was in custody or merely subjected to an investigative detention in a State College DUI case. In the case, a State College police officer responded to a report that a suspicious person was sitting in his truck outside the State College School District bus garage. The officer parked his cruiser approximately 20 feet from the truck, approached the truck, requested that the man produce identification and spoke with the man for approximately 5 minutes. While talking with the man, the State College officer noticed that the man had bloodshot, glassy eyes, and the officer decided to conduct a DUI investigation after suspecting the person of being intoxicated. The officer requested that the man exit his vehicle and perform field sobriety tests, including a breath test. The officer then arrested the man for suspicion of DUI and transported him to the hospital for a blood alcohol concentration test. After obtaining the blood alcohol results from the hospital, the officer filed DUI charges.

The man’s Centre County DUI defense lawyer filed a pretrial motion seeking suppression of any incriminating statements that the man had made. The lawyer argued that the man had been in custody when he was questioned and thereby should have been advised of his Miranda rights. The court was required to consider the “totality of the circumstances,” which simply means that the court is supposed to review important factors such as the reason for the initial detention, duration and location of detention, whether the suspect was transported and how far, whether restraints or handcuffs were used, and whether the officer showed, threatened or used force. In this State College DUI case, after reviewing the aforementioned factors, the judge held that the man had only been detained and was not in custody until he was formally arrested by being handcuffed and placed in the back of the police car. In stating that the suspect was not in custody, his 5th Amendment rights did not apply, meaning the officer was not required to provide Miranda warnings, so all admissions made prior to arrest were admissible.

Example of “Custody” in Centre County DUI Case

In a prior Centre County DUI case in which I provided representation, the judge considered the totality of the circumstances and held that my client was in “custody” prior to being formally arrested. In the case, the client was forcefully removed from his vehicle, handcuffed, walked to a waiting ambulance, told to get into the back of the ambulance for medical treatment, and then the officer stood at the back door of the ambulance and questioned the client. The court agreed with my argument that the client was in custody when he was questioned. Since Miranda warnings had not been issued by the trooper, the judge ordered that the client’s statements regarding his consumption of alcohol could not be used by the district attorney in the prosecution of this Centre County DUI case.