The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently issued an unpublished opinion that helps to clarify the question of when police are required to read someone their rights. A common misconception is that police are required to read someone there rights any time they question or arrest someone. However, this is not true and the misconception likely exists as the result of television shows like Law and Order where law enforcement seems to read the suspect their rights immediately upon arrest.
State v. Williams
The Court of Appeals' recent decision came in State v. Williams. In that case, the defendant called police for help with a domestic abuse situation, but by the time police arrived the defendant had apparently stabbed her abuser. Police placed the defendant in handcuffs at the scene, supposedly “for her own safety,” and then, while the defendant was handcuffed, asked the defendant if she was willing to speak with a detective. The detective then removed the handcuffs, but placed the defendant in a marked squad car and asked a uniformed officer to bring the defendant to a police station, where the defendant was then brought to a formal investigation room. The detective then questioned the defendant for quite a while before reading the defendant her Miranda rights. After hearing her rights for the first time, the defendant asked if she should have a lawyer, but the detective brushed off her question and continued the interrogation.
Determination of Custody
In its first importation holding, the court found that a person is in custody when police handcuff her, place her in a marked squad car, and have a uniformed officer bring her to a police station where she is then interrogated in a formal interview room. These objective factors are sufficient to establish that she is in custody even if the police officer tells her that she is not under arrest and that she is free to leave at any time. This is the first step to determining whether the police are required to advise someone of their rights. This first holding is important because if a person is in custody, then police must give her notice of her Miranda rights, including the right to have an attorney present during the interrogation. Statements made prior to the Miranda warning may be suppressed, and a prosecutor may not be able to use those statements in court.
Request for Attorney
The second important holding in Williams is that police officers must stop an interrogation and clarify whether a suspect wishes to exercise her right to an attorney if she makes a statement suggesting that she might wish to contact an attorney. In Williams, the suspect asked “Am I supposed to have a lawyer present?” The police officer responded “It's not up to me to decide that. I just have to tell you all that (inaudible). So how long have you been with [the victim]?” According to the Court of Appeals, the police officer violated the suspect's rights by failing to stop and clarify whether or not she wished to contact an attorney. This means that you may be able to have your statements suppressed even if you do not specifically that you wish to have a lawyer present.
What does this mean?
This decision is important for two reasons. The first is that officers may be required to advise you of your rights even if they tell you that you are not under arrest. The second is that the police may be required to stop an interrogation even if the suspect has not explicitly stated that they wish to have an attorney.
If you have been charged with a crime, it is vital to ensure that law enforcement officials did not violate your rights during an interrogation or investigation. Your defense may rely upon your attorney's ability to convince a court to suppress any evidence obtained in violation of your rights. The experienced attorneys at Olson Defense will identify such violations and vigorously pursue the appropriate remedy. Call us today at (952) 835-1088 for your free consultation.