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What Is Required for Police Custody so That Miranda Applies?

Our office is frequently told that police officers or loss prevention officers (in a shoplifting case) who spoke to the client failed to “read me my rights.”  The client or potential client then asks if this means the case will be dismissed.

The answer depends upon whether police were involved, whether there was a “prolonged detention” of the client and the adequacy of the “reading of the rights,” if for example police gave some warning to the suspect. Most importantly, the client or potential client must have then said something which conclusively establishes his or her guilt, i.e. a full confession, or an admission to some fact that, combined with other evidence, supports a conviction.

This article will address one of these three requirements: that the suspect be in some form of a prolonged detention, often referred to as being in custody.  This generally means being formally arrested or being restrained in one’s freedom of movement to the degree associated with a formal arrest.  Thompson v. Keohane (1995) 516 U.S. 99, 112, 116 S. Ct. 457; California v. Beheler (1983) 463 U.S. 1121, 1125, 103 S. Ct. 3517.
The test to decide if the restraint is sufficient to trigger the Miranda admonition is whether the totality of the circumstances would cause “a reasonable person to believe he was in custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom.”  People v. Chutan (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1276, 1283.  The “ultimate inquiry” is whether “a reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.”  People v. Ochoa (1998) 19 Cal.4th 353, 401, quoting Thompson, supra.
In a Nutshell: Police must read a suspect the Miranda warning if a reasonable person in the suspect’s position with the police would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.
The test depends upon the objective circumstances, not the subjective views of the person being questioned.  Stansbury v. California (1994) 511 U.S. 318, 323, 114 S. Ct. 1526.  Some of the objective factors considered are, under People v. Bejasa (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 26, 36:
  1. The site or location of the interrogation;
  2.  The objective indicia of arrest, i.e. is one handcuffed or locked in a cell;
  3. Absent formal arrest, the length of the detention;
  4. The ratio of officers to suspect; and
  5. The demeanor of the officer, including the nature of the questioning.
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When a juvenile is involved, consideration of the age of the suspect is appropriate, as long as the suspect’s age was known to the officer at the time of police questioning, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer.  J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011) 564 U.S. 261, 277, 131 S. Ct. 2394, 2404.    The Ninth Circuit, a federal court covering cases in California, has similarly noted the following factors as considerations, too (U.S. v. IMM (9th Cir. 2014) 747 F.3d 754, 765):
  1. The language used to summon the suspect (i.e. cussing);
  2. The extent to which the subject is confronted with evidence of guilt;
  3. The physical surroundings of the interrogation;
  4. The duration of the detention; and
  5. The degree of pressure applied to detain the suspect.
There are dozens of cases deciding what is a detention and what is not.  Perhaps one that epitomizes the degree to which a court will uphold the police decision not to give Miranda warnings is U.S. v. Crawford (9th Cir., 2004) 372 F.3d 1048, 1059.  In this case, police went to a parolee’s house and detained him, however, the court held that the detention ended when the suspect agreed to go to an FBI office for questioning.  Once there, because he was repeatedly told he could just leave whenever he wanted, the questioning did not amount to a custodial interrogation, so his statements were admissible despite no Miranda warning.

The best thing someone can do to try to suppress a statement made without Miranda warnings is to read ten or more cases on when a court does and does not suppress such statements, as there are dozens, if not hundreds of cases on this issue.  The attorney should try to analogize the pending case to past cases where a judge found the circumstances sufficient to require such a warning and argue, consequently, that in the pending case such a warning was improperly neglected or omitted.

For more information about Fifth and Sixth Amendment issues, please click on the following articles:
  1. The Police Did Not Read Me My Miranda Rights – Will My Case Be Dismissed?
  2. Defendant’s Confession to Arson After Nine Hours of Police Questioning Is Admissible Despite No Miranda Warnings Because Defendant Always Free to Leave
  3. Four Facts About Miranda Rights That Everyone Should Know
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