Berkemer v. McCarty

Berkemer v. McCarty Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
468 U.S. 420 (1984)

ISSUE: Was a D taken "into custody" and thus his statements barred from evidence per Miranda if was detained at traffic stop and subjected to standard questioning and a balancing test?
  • D was pulled over by an officer  after the officer observed D swerving in and out of lanes
  • Officer didn't tell D that he was not free to leave, though that's what the officer believed, and he asked D to step out and perform a balancing test
  • After D failed the test and was speaking with slurred speech, officer placed D under arrest and took him to the station
  • Before arrest, D was asked if he had been drinking or doing drugs, he said that he had 2 beers and marijuana -- never received Miranda rights
  • Charged with misdemeanor DUI
  • Moved to exclude statements he had made for violation of his 5th Amdt. rights -- denied
  • Miranda: 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.
  • Not dependent upon offense: It would be unreasonable to expect the police to make guesses as to the nature of the criminal conduct at issue before deciding how they may interrogate the suspect
    • Police are often unaware of whether one has committed a felony or misdemeanor
    • Thus, Miranda not dependent upon nature or severity of the offense
  • Traffic stop not custody: While a traffic stop does significantly curtail the freedom of action of the driver and passengers in a detained vehicle, a traffic stop is different from actual custody
    • Detention of a motorist pursuant to a traffic stop is presumptively temporary and brief
      • Quite different than stationhouse interrogation, which is frequently prolonged
    • Circumstance associated with a typical traffic stop are not such that the motorist feels completely at the mercy of the police
      • Most traffic stops are public to some degree
      • Atmosphere is substantially less police dominated
    • More like a Terry stop
  • D's stop: Initial stop of D's car did not itself render D "in custody," and statements made before the arrest are admissible
    • Point at which one's "in custody" does NOT depend on the officer's subjective statement of mind, as the only relevant inquiry is a what a reasonable man in the suspect's position would have understood in the situation
  • Custody + Interrogation = Miranda warnings
  • So when does Miranda v. Arizona apply? Well Berkemer tells us not when an individual is temporarily detained at a traffic stop (or a Terry stop for that matter. Berkemer, however, is not the case to hold that a Terry stop is not "custody" for the purposes of Miranda.) So if all you have is Berkemer for your rules statement on a law school exam that will be pretty frustrating, since it's only a negative decision: we learn what "custody" is not.
  • So what really is "custody" for the purposes of Miranda? Well I made the move of reading another case: Thompson v. Keohane to determine that. Here's what Thompson had to say about Miranda "custody":
    "Two discrete inquiries are essential to the determination: first, what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and second, given those circumstances,would a reasonable person have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. Once the scene is set and the players' lines and actions are reconstructed, the court must apply an objective test to resolve 'the ultimate inquiry': '[was] there a "formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement" of the degree associated with a formal arrest." [Citation]. The first inquiry, all agree, is distinctly factual. State-court findings on these scene- and action-setting questions attract a presumption of correctness under 28 U. S. C. § 2254(d). The second inquiry, however, calls for application of the controlling legal standard to the historical facts. This ultimate determination, we hold, presents a 'mixed question of law and fact' qualifying for independent review."
    Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112-13 (1999).
  • OK, so let's digest that. The Court really only wants Miranda to apply when an individual is "arrested" or at least sufficiently detained in order to warrant that label (fully consistent with Berkemer's "negative" holding). Of course, the Court is really just borrowing from Peter to pay Paul here, as the definition for "arrest" is about as elusive at the Yeti. But essentially what we have to work with is if a reasonable person would not have felt at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave, then we have "custody" for the purposes of Miranda (sound familiar? See United States v. Mendenhall). The Court emphasizes that this is a fact-specific inquiry, not unlike what constitutes a "seizure" for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. (Oh, but do be sure to not confuse the Amendments and their respective jurisprudence. They are not the same as will be pointed out when the occasions arise.)
  • The bottom line: if someone has been "arrested," they need to be Mirandized in order for any subsequent confession to be admissible in the prosecution's case-in-chief.

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