Overview: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed a drug conviction in a case where FBI agents deliberately delayed Miranda warnings to induce the defendant’s confession. The court found that the agents had engaged in a custodial interrogation, intentionally delaying Miranda warnings to induce the defendant’s cooperation in the investigation. Using a “two-step” tactic, the agent purposely gave “mid-stream” warnings after the defendant incriminated himself. The court concluded that the line of inquiry inevitably led to a harmful admission that was central to the conviction and should have been suppressed because of the lack of Miranda warnings.
Training Points: This case illustrates the importance of prompt issuance of Miranda warnings prior to conducting a custodial interrogation. Despite several rulings over the years with various interpretations of Miranda, one element has remained consistent: the interrogation environment. The location and setting where an interrogation takes place has a significant impact on whether a reasonable person in the same situation would believe that he/she is free to leave, and, therefore, whether they are in custody for purposes of Miranda. Since courts can take into consideration a number of factors to make a custodial interrogation determination, it usually is best to give the Miranda warnings at the start of questioning to protect the integrity of any information provided by the suspect without concern for whether that information may be used later. The use of false pretenses is risky as the information obtained may be subject to suppression down the road if the court determines that Miranda warnings should have been given.
Summary Analysis: In U.S. v. Barnes, FBI agents were investigating an alleged drug trafficker. In a recorded phone call, an informant arranged to obtain illegal drugs from Michael D. Barnes. The FBI agents did not witness the deal, but the informant gave them a package allegedly received from Barnes and Barnes was indicted on drug charges. A few months later, the agents had Barnes’ parole officer schedule a meeting at which Barnes was required to appear. Rather than the routine check in the lobby, Barnes was searched and escorted through a locked door into the building. There, the agents questioned Barnes for two hours. Before reading his Miranda rights, the agents played the recorded phone call with the informant and said they knew of his role in a larger drug distribution chain. The court found that this closed-door meeting with three officers created a custodial interrogation in which a reasonable person would not have felt free to leave. Further, the agents deliberately waited to give Barnes warnings so that he would “continue talking” about his role in the trafficking. The court said that Miranda warnings were required before, not after, Barnes admitted guilt. The “two steps” yielded evidence necessary to charge another suspect, but should not have been used against Barnes at trial.
Follow-Up Contact: For questions regarding this case or its implications for your agency and public safety department, please contact Paul Cappitelli, BB&K’s law enforcement specialist, G. Ross Trindle, III, public safety attorney, or your BB&K attorney.