Custodial Interrogation

Questioning by law enforcement officers after a defendant is taken into custody; defendant is required to be informed of his constitutional rights.

The Miranda Warnings

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “[n]o person…shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.” In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 439 (1966),  the United States Supreme Court addressed the necessity for procedures to assure that an individual subject to custodial interrogation is accorded his or her privilege under the Fifth Amendment not to be compelled to incriminate himself or herself. The court held:

[T]he prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. By custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.

Id. at 444.

In Miranda, the Supreme Court held that the prosecution could not use statements elicited during a custodial interrogation unless it demonstrated compliance with certain procedural safeguards mandated as a means of securing the privilege against self-incrimination. These safeguards serve as protection against the inherently compelling pressures associated with the combination of interrogation and custody that work to “undermine the individual’s will to resist and to compel him or her to speak where he or she would not otherwise do so freely. “[T]he very fact of custodial interrogation exacts a heavy toll on individual liberty and trades on the weaknesses of individuals.” Id. at 467 and 455-456.

The Miranda warnings are required before questioning where an individual has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his or her freedom in any significant way or is led to believe, as a reasonable person, that he or she is not free to leave.  The relevant inquiry is whether a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would understand that he or she was in custody.

A variety of factors prove helpful in determining whether an individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda. Some of the factors to consider are:

[W]hether contact with law enforcement was initiated by the police or the person interrogated, and if by the police, whether the person voluntarily agreed to an interview; whether the express purpose of the interview was to question the person as a witness or a suspect; where the interview took place; whether police informed the person that he or she was under arrest or in custody; whether they informed the person that he or she was free to terminate the interview and leave at any time and/or whether the person’s conduct indicated an awareness of such freedom; whether there were restrictions on the person’s freedom of movement during the interview; how long the interrogation lasted; how many police officers participated; whether they dominated and controlled the course of the interrogation; whether they manifested a belief that the person was culpable and they had evidence to prove it; whether the police were aggressive, confrontational, and/or accusatory; whether the police used interrogation techniques to pressure the suspect; and whether the person was arrested at the end of the interrogation.

People v. Aguilera, 51 Cal. App. 4th 1151, 1162 (1996).

Once the suspect is under arrest, the suspect is in custody, and Miranda warnings are an absolute necessity. Therefore, in situations where actions of the police are the functional equivalent of arrest, the defendant is in custody for purposes of Miranda.

The Custody Test

Since the Miranda warnings are only required to custodial interrogation, the courts have applied the “custody test” to determine whether the person was in custody at the time of the interrogation.

The custody test entails the court applying an objective standard to determine how a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have understood his or her situation.

In determining how a reasonable person would have understood his or her situation, the “ultimate inquiry is simply whether there [was] a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest.” California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125 (1983). “[T]he initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned.” Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 323 (1994). Further, the test for custody does not “‘place upon the police the burden of anticipating the frailties or idiosyncracies of every person whom they question.’” Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442 n.35 (1984).

Because of the objective nature of the custody test, courts do not consider the personal characteristics of the suspect in determining whether there was a restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest. In deciding whether “indicia of arrest are present” such that a suspect is in custody, courts instead consider various objective facts related to the interrogation itself that can be easily perceived by both the suspect and law enforcement officers.  These include:

  • The location where the interrogation took place, see Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 343-44 (1976) (holding questioning at suspect’s home was non-custodial);
  • The use of force or restraints, see New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 655 (1984) (holding questioning was custodial in part because the suspect was handcuffed);
  • The length of questioning, see McCarty, 468 U.S. at 441 (holding traffic stop was not custodial due in part because of short time period between stop and formal arrest);
  • The number of officers present, see Quarles, 467 U.S. at 655 (holding questioning was custodial in part because the suspect was surrounded by four officers); and
  • The communications made to the accused indicating whether he or she was free to leave, see Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 325 (“An officer’s knowledge or beliefs may bear upon the custody issue if they are conveyed, by word or deed, to the individual being questioned.”).

Exclusionary Rule

Similar to the remedy for a Fourth Amendment violation, the remedy for violation of the Fifth Amendment rule is exclusion from evidence of statements obtained through a custodial interrogation without the Miranda warnings.

Related entries