Custody

Terms:


Custody
The detainment of a person by virtue of lawful process or authority

Detainment
The restraint of a person’s liberty against his will

Arrest
Legally authorized deprivation of someone’s liberty; Taking custody of another for the purpose of holding or detaining him to answer for a criminal charge or civil demand


We noted earlier that the Miranda requirements protecting the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination apply only to a defendant’s statement made while in "custody." It is essential, therefore, that we be able to determine whether or not a Defendant is in custody.

As you may have gathered from the defined Terms for this section, it is difficult to give a non-circular definition of custody. While all arrests entail taking a person into custody, one can be in custody even while not having been arrested. Simply being lawfully detained, or lawfully restrained against one’s will, can be sufficient to meet the custody requirement found in Miranda. One way of looking at it is that, at a minimum, the police must have limited someone’s freedom of movement for that person to be considered to be "in custody" for Miranda purposes. See California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121 (1983).

EXAMPLE: Officer Cheesy catches up with an armed robbery suspect that he has been chasing through the street. He yells “Freeze, sucker. You’re under arrest!” at which point he slaps on the handcuffs and transports the suspect in his squad car back to the precinct house. Clearly, the suspect is in custody and should be Mirandized prior to interrogation.

Through case law, it has been settled that probation interviews and routine traffic stops fall short of placing the person in custody. It is therefore not necessary to provide Miranda warnings to people in these circumstances in order to prevent infringing on their Fifth Amendment privilege. See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984).

EXAMPLE: Dennis is stopped by Officer Ordinary for running a red light. Upon approaching the driver’s side window and shining a bright flashlight in Dennis’ eyes, Officer Ordinary asks, “Do you know why I stopped you?” Dennis, flustered by the retina-burning brightness says, “The drugs in the trunk aren’t mine! I just borrowed this car from a friend! Heck, I didn’t even know they were there!” Officer Ordinary, with a smirk on his face, orders Dennis to exit the car. While handcuffing him, the officer reads Dennis his rights, at which point Dennis asserts his Fifth Amendment privilege to remain silent and demands his attorney. The extrajudicial confession regarding the drugs can be used against Dennis at his criminal trial, as he was not in custody at the time he made the statement.

Custody is not necessarily determined by the presence or absence of physical restraint. Nor is somebody necessarily in custody merely by virtue of being in an office in a police station. See Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341 (1976). The test is whether a reasonably prudent person would believe that her freedom of movement is significantly restrained, given the totality of the circumstances. If someone would reasonably conclude under the circumstances that she is not free to leave the room, or office, or police station or other location, then she is likely in custody for Miranda purposes. Whether she actually believes herself so constrained, and whether the police officer actually believes that she is so constrained, are not relevant.

EXAMPLE: Joe Citizen walks into the police station to report that his house has been burglarized. Detective Vendredi invites Joe into his “office” to take the report, as the station is hectic that night. The officer tells him that if he wants to leave and do this another time, there would be no problem arranging it. After Joe sits down within the confines of a three-sided cubicle into which the officer led him, Vendredi says “Hey, you know, you look an awful lot like a guy I was chasing after a mugging last week. Was that you?” Joe Citizen, being an avid television cop-show fan, sees his opportunity to stick it to the officer. “Yeah, that was me, and I bought lots of drugs with the money I took, too. Too bad you didn’t read me my rights and can’t use this statement against me!” At that point Vendredi jumps up, cuffs Joe, and reads him his rights. Unfortunately for Joe, he was not in custody at the time of the statement, and it can be presented as evidence against him in court. See Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492 (1977).