BB&K Police Bulletin: Miranda Warnings and Temporary Detention

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
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Handcuffing a Suspect During Investigative Detention Does Not Automatically Create a Custodial Interrogation for Purposes of Miranda

Overview: A California court of appeal recently held that investigatory questioning at the scene of a suspected crime, even if the suspect is handcuffed, does not necessarily amount to a “custodial interrogation” requiring Miranda warnings.

Training Points: This case illustrates that no one single fact will determine whether Miranda warnings are required. Officers should remember that whether Miranda warnings are required depends on whether the person being questioned is “in custody.” The “in custody” factors include:

  • Whether the suspect has been formally arrested;
  • Absent formal arrest, the length of the detention;
  • The location;
  • The ratio of officers to suspects;
  • The demeanor of the officer, including the nature of the questioning;
  • Whether the officer informed the person he or she was considered a witness or suspect;
  • Whether there were restrictions on the suspect’s freedom of movement;
  • Whether the police were aggressive, confrontational and/or accusatory;
  • Whether the police used interrogation techniques to pressure the suspect.

Summary Analysis: In People v. Davidson, a citizen reported his motorcycle stolen from a residential street. A witness observed a man pushing a motorcycle down the same street. A responding officer found Davidson pushing a motorcycle matching the description of the stolen motorcycle down the street. Jumper wires were hanging out of the ignition and Davidson was acting evasive. The officer ordered Davidson to put the motorcycle down. Davidson immediately placed a flat-blade screwdriver on the motorcycle seat. The officer handcuffed Davidson for officer safety and told him to sit on the curb because he was investigating a possible stolen motorcycle in the area. The officer asked Davidson one question: “Is this your vehicle?”Davidson said he found the motorcycle. Davidson later was convicted of theft. He appealed, arguing his pre-arrest statement was inadmissible because he was not given his Miranda warnings. The court upheld the convictions, finding no “custodial interrogation” because: (1) Davidson was being “detained” while the officer investigated a possible motorcycle theft; (2) the officer only asked Davidson one question to confirm or dispel his suspicion; (3) the officer handcuffed Davidson for his own safety; (4) the detention lasted two minutes; and (5) the officer was alone.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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