The Legal Intelligencer
September 22, 2022
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently ruled that a suspect handcuffed and standing outside of a police car for 15 minutes, on a “dark street,” in the middle of the night is not entitled to be informed of his constitutional right to an attorney and his right to not answer questions. More compelling is the fact that five of 12 circuit courts agree with this interpretation of a fundamental constitutional protection.
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), that police officers are required to inform a suspect that he has the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel when being subject to a custodial interrogation.
The landmark Supreme Court decision has become a part of American culture. Miranda’s conversion from legal holding to cultural icon is due mainly to the nation’s insatiable appetite for true-crime drama. Everyone with a television or streaming service has heard of Miranda warnings.
What did Miranda do to earn his place in American consciousness? In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested for robbery. While in the midst of a custodial interrogation by police he confessed to raping an 18-year-old woman. At trial, prosecutors offered his confession into evidence. Miranda was convicted of rape and sentenced to prison. He appealed and his case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miranda and excluded his confession. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the court’s opinion finding a confession would be barred under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments unless a suspect had been made aware of his rights and the suspect had waived them. Warren made it clear, “If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease … If the individual states that he wants an attorney, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present.”
Courts have whittled away at those rights for years. In United States v. Coulter, 2022 BL 248481, 5th Cir., No. 20-1099, 7/18/22 the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision, a police officer pulled over Braylon Coulter in the middle of the night. The officer suspected that Coulter, who had a conviction for aggravated robbery, might be armed. The officer removed Coulter from the van he was driving and handcuffed him.
Once cuffed the officer asked Coulter where he was keeping his gun. The officer’s partner found a .40 caliber pistol and small amount of marijuana in a backpack in the van.
Before Coulter was cuffed and questioned, the officer did not provide Miranda warnings. The admissibility of Coulter’s unwarned statements would turn on whether he was “in custody” at the time of his questioning.
Although handcuffed, the Fifth Circuit held that a “reasonable person” in Coulter’s position would not have thought that he was in custody for Miranda purposes.
The court appears to suggest that custody can only be substantiated when a suspect is in the “station house.” As a result, the statements made by Coulter, without being warned of his right to silence or to an attorney, were admissible.
In a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices reminded us that “Miranda rules are prophylactic rules that the court found to be necessary to protect the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.” See Vega v. Tekoh, 597 U.S. __, 2022 WL 2251304 (June 23, 2022).
The decision in Tekoh, went so far as to suggest that suppression issues should not necessarily have bright-line rules, but should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis using a cost-benefit analysis.
Tekoh’s civil rights complaint alleged that police questioned him about a reported sexual assault at his workplace, a medical facility. Tekoh was not informed of his rights under Miranda. Tekoh eventually provided a written statement apologizing for inappropriately touching the patient’s genitals.
Tekoh was prosecuted for unlawful sexual penetration. His written statement was admitted against him at trial. After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Tekoh sued the police for a violation of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.
The Ninth Circuit held that the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a Section 1983 claim against the officer who obtained the statement. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. A violation of the Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a Section 1983 claim.
When the Supreme Court creates a prophylactic rule to protect a constitutional right, the relevant “reasoning” is the weighing of the rule’s benefits against its costs.
Examples of the high court weighing costs and benefits when making a suppression decision are evident in two rulings of the court.
In Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 778, 793 (2009), Jesse Montejo was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. At his trial, the prosecution submitted a letter of apology he wrote to the victim’s wife. Montejo wrote the letter at the suggestion of a detective who accompanied him in a search for the murder weapon. Before the search he was Mirandized, but neither he nor the police were aware that a lawyer had been appointed to represent him.
The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the letter of apology Montejo wrote was admissible because he had to do something beyond “mute acquiescence” to trigger the protections of the Sixth Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court overruled prior decisions that held that evidence obtained through interrogation after the defendant has invoked his right to counsel was inadmissible. The court ruled that the prior decisions of the court were unworkable in jurisdictions that appoint counsel regardless of a defendant’s request. Instead, the court stated that the protections afforded under Miranda were sufficient to protect a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights from police badgering.
In Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98, 106 (2010) Blain Shatzer was incarcerated for the sexual assault of a child when he as interviewed by police for the sexual abuse of his own 3-year-old child.
He invoked the Fifth Amendment requesting an attorney be present during his interview. The investigation was subsequently closed. It was reopened several years later. Shatzer was interviewed a second time, and advised of his Miranda rights. He waived his rights, and confessed to sexually abusing his child.
Shatzer moved to suppress the confessions he made during his second interview arguing that his prior invocation of the Fifth Amendment was still applicable.
The Supreme Court found that a break in Miranda custody that enabled the suspect to be re-acclimated to normal life did not mandate suppression. In Shatzer’s case a number of years passed between interviews. However, the court set a bright-line standard of 14 days. If 14 days passes between a first and second interview the police are able treat a subsequent interview as though it were a first interview.
In Coulter, the recent decision from the Fifth Circuit, Judge Edith H. Jones ruled that Coulter’s statements while handcuffed were admissible, even though he had not received Miranda warnings before he told the officer where the gun could be found.
In an unusual concurrence to her own majority opinion, Jones argued that when appeal judges can’t agree on whether a traffic-stop suspect is in custody for Miranda warning purposes, the panel “ought to consider the costs and benefits of suppressing incriminatory statements.” As the high court said in Tekoh a violation of Miranda does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution, and therefore such a violation does not constitute “the deprivation of a right … secured by the Constitution.”
“A judicially crafted” prophylactic rule should apply “only where its benefits outweigh its costs.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George in New Castle. He is the author of “The Executioner’s Toll,” 2010. He was the former district attorney of Lawrence County. Contact him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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