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BlogsPublications | February 14, 2017
4 minute read

COA holds that test for whether an interrogation requires Miranda warnings does not turn solely on the location of the interrogation

Where an interrogation takes place is not all that matters when determining whether a criminal suspect must receive Miranda warnings.  In People v. Barritt, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that questioning a suspect at a police station does not, by itself, require Miranda warnings.  But if a suspect is brought to the police station in a cruiser, questioned for 90 minutes, denied access to a lawyer, never told that he was not under arrest, and implicitly threatened, the totality of the circumstances indicate custodial interrogation requiring Miranda warnings.

In People v. Barritt, No. 333206, police were investigating a missing person when the defendant arrived on the scene. At the time, the defendant was the missing person’s boyfriend and prime suspect.  The officers asked to speak to him and he agreed to come to the police station to talk.  The defendant was transported to the station in a marked police car without the option to drive separately. Upon arriving at the station, the officers put the suspect in an unlocked room. But from all appearances, the court said, any reasonable suspect would think the room was locked.

The police questioned the defendant for 90 minutes. At times the questioning was confrontational, and the transcript reveals a “good cop-bad cop” routine. In two different instances, the defendant requested an attorney. Still, the officers continued to question him, often aggressively accusing him of lying.  Near the end of the interview, the officers brought in a K-9 for unclear reasons, but saying, “Oh, he’ll bow you right off your feet if I send him.”  When the officers ended the questioning they put the defendant in handcuffs, and transferred him to another police station.

At trial, the defendant moved to exclude the contents of the interview because he was never given Miranda warnings.  The trial court broadly interpreted the definitions section of a Michigan statute governing the videotaping of interviews and held the defendant’s statements inadmissible because they were given at a police station.  MCL 763.7 defines “place of detention” to include “police station . . . or another governmental facility where an individual may be held in connection with a criminal charge that has been or may be filed against the defendant.”  The trial court relied on that definition to conclude that the defendant was in custody at the police station, and thus, should have been given Miranda warnings.

The Court of Appeals rejected this reasoning. The United States Supreme Court made clear in Miranda v. Arizona and its progeny that “custodial interrogation” is defined by the totality of the circumstances. If a defendant is in custody and interrogated by law enforcement, then the defendant must be informed of his or her constitutional rights. Importantly, though, no single factor determines custodial interrogation. Because the important consideration is the totality of the circumstances, the trial court’s narrow focus on the place of questioning was inappropriate.

Applying the proper holistic standard, the Court of Appeals held that the defendant should have been given Miranda warnings. Clearly, the court said, a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would feel compelled to stay at the police station. The door of the interrogation room appeared locked, the officers did not provide the defendant with a lawyer, they brought in a K-9 and noted its tenacity, and they repeatedly told the defendant he was lying. Further, at the conclusion of the questioning, the defendant was taken away in handcuffs. According to the Miranda standard, the court said, the totality of the circumstances indicated that “Defendant was subject to custodial interrogation.” The officers were required to read the defendant his constitutional rights, and the trial court therefore reached the right conclusion on the wrong grounds.

Two judges wrote separate opinions in the case. Judge Gleicher wrote a concurring opinion summarizing analytical approaches from other jurisdictions. The opinion more closely examined case law following Miranda, ultimately agreeing that a finding of custodial interrogation was most appropriate given the facts. “The majority hews closely to this totality-of-the-circumstances mandate,” Judge Gleicher said.

Judge Kelly dissented, focusing  on facts that would indicate the defendant was free to leave. The room was not actually locked, the officers came and went, the defendant was offered a beverage, and he was, at some point, told “that he could ‘end this at any time’ and that he was not under arrest.” Drawing parallels to other cases where the court found a defendant not in custody, Judge Kelly argued ‘[t]he trial court should have denied defendant’s motion to suppress defendant’s statement."