Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an unusual, but highly relevant, case. The case involved a crime prohibiting the removal of human remains; however, more importantly, the case is a good illustration of Massachusetts constitutional law as it pertains to statements given to police.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, police officers received a tip that there were three human skulls on the defendant’s front porch. Within a few hours, police arrived at the defendant’s home to question him about the skulls. The defendant explained that he was a priest in the Palo Mayombe religion, and that he purchased the remains from an unknown man in Worcester for $3,000 apiece. Without prompting, the defendant also showed the officer a photograph of the remains in the tomb, before they had been removed. The photographs indicated that the cemetery was in Worcester. The officer did not arrest the defendant.
Later, other officers returned to further question the defendant. One of the officers learned that a cemetery in Worcester had been broken into, and several human remains were taken. The defendant agreed to go to the police station to give a statement. He was not given his Miranda warnings, and spoke to detectives for two hours. However, at the end of the interview, the defendant refused to sign the interview. At the end of the interview, detectives determined they had probable cause to arrest the defendant.
In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that his oral statement to detectives should be suppressed because he was not advised of his Miranda rights. The trial court granted the motion, and the prosecution appealed.
On appeal, the prosecution argued that the defendant was not subject to custodial interrogation and that the court should not have suppressed the defendant’s statement. The prosecution noted that the defendant willingly accompanied the officers to the station and voluntarily gave a statement.
The appellate court agreed with the prosecution, reversing the lower court’s ruling in favor of the defendant. The court explained that Miranda warnings are only required when a person is subject to custodial interrogation. A custodial interrogation analysis is composed of two parts: custody and interrogation. Unless both elements are met, police do not need to read a person their Miranda warnings.
Here, the court determined that the defendant was neither in custody, nor was he interrogated. The court noted that the interview started in the defendant’s home, rather than a “police-dominated environment.” The court also noted that the tone of the conversation was “cordial” and that the police officers never expressed that the defendant was under investigation for a crime, making their interactions “investigatory” rather than “accusatory.”
The court ultimately determined that the police did not need to read the defendant his Miranda warnings, and that his statement was voluntary. Thus, it should not have been suppressed by the lower court.
Have You Been Arrested for a Massachusetts Crime?
If you have recently been arrested for a crime, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy for immediate assistance. Attorney Murphy is a dedicated criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients facing all types of serious crimes, including Boston drug crimes, weapons offenses, and more. With his help, you may be able to keep harmful evidence out of the jury’s consideration, potentially forcing the prosecution to withdraw the case against you. To learn more, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.