Professor Byron Warnken Is Interviewed about Miranda Rights by the Washington Post
The Honorable Eric Johnson, on the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, granted a motion to suppress a confession given by a father in a sex abuse case involving his daughter. The defense argued that the statement was inadmissible because the defendant’s Miranda rights were violated. Judge Johnson, a former police officer, agreed. To obtain a valid statement, Miranda rights must be given, and the defendant must make a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to silence and his right to have an attorney present during questioning. In this case, Miranda rights were neither given nor waived. The issue was whether Miranda rights were even applicable. In 1966, the Supreme Court held that Miranda rights apply if the defendant is “in custody.” In 1983, the Court held that “custody” means “under arrest or its functional equivalent.” In this case, the defendant was not formally arrested. The police “suggested” or “urged” him to come to the station to talk, to which he agreed. When he arrived at the station, he was taken through two locked doors and into an interview/interrogation room. He was never told that he was free to go, although he was told once that “there’s the door.” Judge Johnson held that the defendant was in custody for Miranda purposes, and thus the State was prohibited from using the defendant’s statement as evidence.
Professor Warnken stated that there are probably 100,000 reported opinions interpreting and applying Miranda, with probably 5,000 of them analyzing whether a suspect, who gave a statement, without Miranda warnings, was or was not “in custody” at that time. He stated that, based on reported case law interpreting and applying Miranda, this case presents a close question. Warnken noted that the Judge Johnson would have been correct whichever way he ruled. For the judge to be legally incorrect, his factually finding of “under arrest” would have to have been clearly erroneous. Warnken stated that, in his judgment, the facts are “close enough” that the Judge would not reversible, and could not have been legally incorrect, whichever way he ruled, because the facts are too close to make the judge “clearly erroneous.”