Failure To Mirandize In State College Drug Possession Case

A Centre County judge recently issued an opinion in a State College misdemeanor drug possession case in which the criminal defense lawyer sought suppression of statements made by the defendant because the officer did not advise the defendant of her Miranda warnings.  The judge’s decision granted the suppression of some statements, but the judge also felt that Miranda warnings were not required during the entire interaction between the officer and suspect and therefore ruled that some incriminating statements would be admissible at a future trial.

When Are Miranda Warnings Required? – “Custodial Interrogation”

Many people are familiar with the COPS show from the 1990’s and watched the police officer administer Miranda warnings to every person that was arrested. Because of the show, many people misunderstand when Miranda warnings must be given to a suspect of criminal activity. For example, Miranda warnings are rarely given in DUI arrests until after the DUI suspect has provided a breath or blood sample to determine the blood alcohol level.

Miranda warnings are based upon a person’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and apply when a person is subjected to a “custodial interrogation.” This means that a law enforcement officer should inform a suspect of his or her rights under the Fifth Amendment, commonly referred to as Miranda rights, when the person is: 1) in custody; and 2) being interrogated. While the police on COPS immediately informed a suspect of Miranda rights when arrested, the law does not actually impose that requirement on police. Instead, the arrest obviously means that the suspect is in “custody,” but, if the police do not intend to interrogate or question the suspect about his or her involvement in criminal activity, then Miranda warnings are not required. If the officer intends to question the suspect about the alleged criminal incident and the suspect has been arrested, then Miranda warnings are required.

What Is “Custody” for Miranda Purposes?

Many people would assume that “custody” means that the person must be arrested. The actual legal definition of “custody” is slightly different. A person is in “custody” if he reasonably believes that his freedom of action is restricted by the interrogation. The key issue to note is that a person does not need to be in handcuffs or formally arrested in order to be in “custody” for Miranda purposes. In a Centre County DUI case, I filed a motion to suppress when the trooper failed  to provide Miranda warnings and questioned my client when the client was in the back of an ambulance. The Centre County judge agreed with my argument that the client was in “custody” when the trooper stood at the back of the ambulance and questioned the client while the client was receiving medical treatment. Since the client was subjected to “custodial interrogation” and was not informed of his Miranda rights, the judge suppressed my client’s incriminating statements.

Was State College Drug Suspect in “Custody”?

A Centre County judge recently considered whether or not a State College drug possession suspect was in “custody” and thereby should have been advised of her Miranda rights. The woman provided incriminating statements to the officer before being arrested, then made statements while she was arrested and transported to the booking center, and she made additional incriminating statements after she was released from the booking center. The woman’s State College criminal defense attorney sought suppression of her client’s incriminating statements. The judge granted suppression of the statements that were given after the woman was arrested and until she was released, but the judge held that the woman’s Fifth Amendment rights were not violated when she provided statements before and after she was actually arrested.

While a person’s Fifth Amendment rights only apply when a person is subjected to a “custodial interrogation,” a person always has the right to remain silent and not answer questions. Generally, any statement provided to police can and WILL be used in a prosecution. Before providing any statement to law enforcement, the target of a police investigation should discuss the matter with an experienced criminal defense attorney.