Quinlan Legal Update: Investigative stops quiz


Under the Fifth Amendment, all people are provided the right to be free from self-incrimination. Practically speaking, this means that even if the police lawfully detain or arrest a person, they cannot force that person to answer questions regarding their suspected criminal activities. Furthermore, under the landmark decision, Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police need to advise suspects of the right to remain silent, as well as other rights, prior to conducting a custodial interrogation.

As one case in this month’s bulletin highlighted, the line between a normal investigative stop and a custodial interrogation that requires the reading of a suspect’s Miranda rights can sometimes be blurred. The purpose of this quiz is to bring that line into focus.

Question 1. When is a person in police custody, for Fifth Amendment purposes?

Answer: Though there is no bright line rule, courts usually state that someone is in police custody when a reasonable person, under identical circumstances, would not feel free to leave, or to end the police encounter. Courts also state that a person is in custody when he or she has been formally arrested or when his or her freedom of movement has been restricted to a degree normally associated with a formal arrest.

Question 2. What constitutes an interrogation?

Answer: An interrogation occurs not only when the police ask a person questions about his or her criminal activities, but also when the police make statements or behave in ways that a reasonable person would believe designed to elicit incriminating statements from the suspect.

Question 3. Does an investigative stop amount to custodial interrogation?

Answer: No. During an investigative stop, officers usually, if not always, ask questions about a person’s suspected criminal activities, questions that would constitute an interrogation; however, though investigative stops involve a brief detention of the suspect, such detentions, courts have ruled, do not constitute custody for Fifth Amendment purposes. Therefore, officers are not required to read a person his Miranda rights prior to conducting a normal investigative stop.

Question 4. Why would an officer need to worry about Miranda while conducting an investigative stop?

Answer: In an investigative stop, an officer can conduct a brief detention for the purpose of investigating suspicions of criminal activities. The officer must be careful not to restrict a person’s freedom of movement to a degree normally associated with a formal arrest, because, in such a case, the encounter could evolve into a custodial interrogation and thereby trigger the requirements outlined in Miranda.

Question 5. Officer O sees Criminal C, whose appearance gives O a reasonable suspicion that he is the person wanted for the theft of a neighbor’s lawn mower. O yells to C and orders him to approach O. C obeys O’s order and remains polite and cooperative with the brief investigation. Still undecided on C’s guilt, O decides to call the neighbor and have him come to the scene to provide an identification. While they wait for the neighbor, O handcuffs C. While C is handcuffed, O continues to ask C whether he stole the lawn mower, and eventually C admits to the crime. Will C’s confession be admitted into evidence?

Answer: Probably not. Though O had a reasonable suspicion that C had committed a crime, O’s actions during the detention probably rose to a level normally associated with a formal arrest. For instance, O handcuffed C, which would be permissible if based on probable cause, but would not be permissible during an investigative stop unless handcuffing C was reasonable in light of the officer’s safety concerns. That did not seem to be the case here. In addition, the fact that O made C wait while the neighbor arrived on the scene suggests that the encounter constituted more than a brief detention; however, the difference between an investigative stop and an arrest is based on the totality of the circumstances, not one single factor.

(Note: If the officer’s actions exceeded the scope of an investigative stop, C’s admission would have been inadmissible even if the officer had probable cause to believe C had committed the crime, because the officer had not read C his Miranda rights.)

Question 6. Officer O sees Criminals C, D, and E and believes they match the description of the perpetrators of a recent armed robbery in the area. O approaches them and asks them to identify themselves. Though C, D, and E do not flee, they appear nervous. D continually puts his hands in his pockets, despite O’s orders for him to stop, and D begins to pace back and forth. O handcuffs the three suspects while he calls for a witness to come to the scene and provide an identification. The witness is only 10 minutes away at the time. While O is waiting for the witness to arrive, he asks the suspects if they knew about the robbery, and C blurts out that they committed the crime. Will C’s confession be admissible?

Answer: Probably. Here, O was conducting an investigative stop of suspects in a violent crime, and the suspects appeared nervous and fidgety. In such a situation, the courts would likely conclude that briefly handcuffing the suspects while they waited for a witness to arrive was reasonably necessary to protect the safety of the officer, as well as the general public. In such a case, C’s confession would be admissible because he was not in custody for Fifth Amendment purposes.

NOTE: This quiz is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The answers to these questions are based on federal law. State law may be more restrictive of officer conduct. Whenever you are unclear about proper procedure, and for answers to your particular questions, please ask an attorney in your jurisdiction.

Former Officer Now Fights Crime by Teaching Children How to Avoid Violence

After years spent dealing with people who saw violence as a solution, a King County (Wa.) police officer decided to work with children before they turned to crime. Paul Figueroa worked for 12 years in a King County gang unit and became fed up with the effects bullying and gossiping had on many children's ability to cope with their anger in positive ways. Consequently, he created a workshop teaching kids how to react to such behavior without resorting to violence. Figueroa theorized that when people of all ages experienced stressful situations, their minds would often go on autopilot, causing them to resort to learned behaviors that often involved violence. Therefore, the solution, Figueroa held, was to simulate those stressful situations and to help his "students" learn how to react in more positive ways. By having the students practice new techniques for dealing with stressful encounters, Figueroa hoped those techniques would eventually replace the old ones that threatened to push the children toward lives of crime.

To find more information on Figueroa's workshops, go to the following website: www.redotheatre.com

Source: Journal Newspapers

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About the author

Quinlan Publishing Group in Boston offers critical and timely law enforcement information to its newsletter subscribers through a variety of publications. Summaries of important court cases, legal compliance information, technology updates, grants and funding information, news updates and helpful tips make up the content of these monthly newsletters. The newsletter titles are: Investigative Stops Bulletin; Search & Seizure Law Bulletin; Narcotics Law Bulletin; Police Department Disciplinary Law Bulletin; Police Grievances Law Bulletin; Arrest Law Bulletin; and Law Enforcement Management Bulletin.

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