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Miranda Rights in a Massachusetts Investigatory Stop

car-accident-671890-m.jpgMiranda rights are frequently misunderstood. When police officers take a suspect into custody intending to conduct an interrogation, they must advise the suspect of his (1) right to remain silent, (2) that what he says can be used against him/her, (3) right to an attorney and that one will be provided at no charge if he can’t afford one. However, Miranda rights need not be given before asking questions at a crime scene, before a suspect volunteers statements, questioning for fact-finding purpose and questioning someone during an investigatory stop.

In a recent case that is not binding precedent, a defendant appealed the jury’s finding he was guilty of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and assault. He appealed on the grounds that statements he made at the time of his arrest should have been suppressed.

The appellate court explained that a jury could have found facts that supported the conviction. In the version the jury believed, a police officer was sent to a car crash at 2:00 a.m. and found the car near a broken telephone pole on a lawn with heavy tire marks. The defendant was at the scene, smelling of alcohol and slurred his speech.

The police saw $18 and a cell phone on the driver’s seat of car. The defendant admitted the photo and name on the phone were of his son and a girl. He also told the police that the car was Garry’s and said something like “let me live.” The defendant got more and more agitated as he was questioned and eventually yelled so hard he spit on the officer’s face. The police, believing he had been driving under the influence, ultimately grabbed him and arrested him.

At trial, the defendant tried to get the statements he made to the police suppressed. He said that he had not said “let me live” but “let me leave.” This was after he had already admitted he owned the cell phone in he car and knew the car’s owner, which suggested to police he had driven and wrecked the car. The defendant argued that the statements were made during a custodial interrogation conducted without Miranda warnings.

The judge held a non-evidentiary hearing at which the judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. Reviewing the judge’s decision, the Massachusetts Appeals Court explained that ordinary, temporary traffic stops are not custodial. Therefore, even if the defendant had said “let me leave,” the encounter was still the same for purposes of statements made.

The defendant also argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failure to object to a booking officer’s testimony that he had been drunk when booked. The appellate court agreed, but found this error did not create a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. It noted there was overwhelming evidence of intoxication including the smell of alcohol, belligerent behavior, slurred speech and poor performance during field-sobriety tests. The defendant would likely have been found guilty even without the booking officer’s testimony.

It should be noted that though the police don’t need to advise you of your Miranda rights during an investigatory stop, probable cause is sometimes acquired because of the way someone answers questions at a crime scene or stop. You don’t have to confess or disclose your involvement in a crime before speaking to a lawyer even if the police have not advised you of your rights. You do need to identify yourself and follow orders, like providing a driver’s license and insurance upon request.

A police officer’s failure to advise you of your Miranda rights in an appropriate situation is just one of many constitutional and procedural defenses that you may be able to invoke. Contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or through this website.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 11, 2013