Miranda in Maryland – Part I

by Professor Byron L. Warnken on November 10, 2010

A Criminal Procedure Update: Miranda in Maryland

I.          Introduction

In 1966, the Supreme Court decided Miranda v. Arizona,[i] which implemented a procedure to ensure that police complied with the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination.[ii] Following the Miranda decision, a debate ensued over whether Miranda was truly of constitutional dimension, or whether it was simply a prophylactic device invented by the Court.[iii] Due to its unpopularity, two years after the decision Congress enacted a law designed to overturn, or at least reduce, the impact of the decision.[iv] Under the statute, Miranda warnings were not required, but the failure to give Miranda warnings could be considered as a factor when reviewing the voluntariness of a defendant’s statement.[v] More than 30 years later, however, the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional and held that Miranda arises from the text of the Constitution; therefore, statutes designed to minimize its impact are unconstitutional.[vi]

Although the issue of whether or not Miranda is a constitutional mandate has been settled, the law surrounding the application of Miranda continues to develop.  Recently, Maryland and the Supreme Court have addressed issues of critical importance to law enforcement officers such as when does Miranda apply, how long does it last, and what constitutes a proper Miranda warning.  The purpose of this article, therefore, is to review some of the most recent and cases to provide guidance to law enforcement officers.

II.        Applicability of Miranda

Whether an officer is required to Mirandize an individual turns on two questions: (1) whether the individual is “in custody” and (2) whether the officer is attempting to elicit information regarding a criminal offense, i.e., whether the officer is conducting an “interrogation.”[vii] In other words, Miranda applies whenever an officer attempts to elicit incriminating statements from a person who is in custody. The test to determine whether a person is “in custody” has two parts: (1) whether a reasonable person would, under the circumstances, believe themselves to be under arrest,[viii] and (2) whether a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the interrogation and leave.[ix] Once a person is in custody, any activity that is designed to elicit information regarding a criminal offense will typically trigger application of Miranda.[x] Therefore, interrogation includes express questioning as well as actions by the police that are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.[xi]

A.        When is a Suspect “in Custody” under Miranda?

Recently, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court addressed the applicability of Miranda regarding two statements he made to police during the course of the investigation into an arson and burglary conducted by the Howard County Police Department.[xii] The suspect, Scott Pryor, had previously been dating a woman whose home burned under suspicious circumstances, causing serious injuries to a number of individuals. On the same night that the fire occurred, officers traveled to Pryor’s home to interview him about the fire. At approximately 8:30 p.m., two detectives knocked on Pryor’s door. Dressed in plain-clothes and wearing service weapons, the officers identified themselves as police and asked to speak with Pryor in his home. Pryor agreed, and the three men subsequently sat around Pryor’s dining room table while the officers questioned him about the case and, secretly, recorded the conversation.[xiii] The officers, however, did not Mirandize Pryor before the conversation.

During trial, the detectives testified that they did not threaten Pryor, make any promises, or yell at him. They also testified that they had no physical contact with him and never displayed their weapons. Notably, they explained that Pryor “expressed little emotion and said nothing when informed of the fire” or when told that a number of residents were injured in the blaze. After the conversation, Pryor consented to a search of the car and the Detectives noted the strong odor of gasoline; however, they elected not to arrest Pryor at the conclusion of the first meeting.

The following day, police obtained a warrant and then used a dog to scan Pryor’s car, seizing it after the dog alerted to the scent of accelerant. Following the seizure of the car, Pryor was arrested and taken to the station and placed in an interview room measuring 8 feet by 5 feet that was outfitted with recording equipment. Pryor agreed to waive Miranda, and the detectives questioned him in the room for 40 minutes before he admitted to setting the fire. Upon obtaining the confession, the detectives took a break to ensure that recording equipment was functioning. During the 10 minute break, the detectives discovered that the recording equipment failed and, therefore, they reentered the interview room with a handheld recorder and requested that Pryor repeat his statement. Pryor agreed, and re-confessed to setting the fire.

At trial, defense counsel argued that Pryor’s first statement to the police should be suppressed because it was taken in violation of Miranda because he was in custody when questioned at his home.  Regarding the in-home confession, Pryor asserted that he was in custody and his statements were coerced because: “(1) the detectives interviewed him at his house around 8:30 p.m., (2) the detectives were armed with their service weapons, (3) appellant was questioned by two detectives, and (4) appellant was isolated while he was questioned.”

In rejecting the arguments, the CSA noted that Miranda has defined “custodial interrogation” as “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.[xiv] In making that determination, therefore, “a court must examine all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, but the ultimate inquiry is simply whether there was a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest.”[xv] Consequently, custody is to be judged by an objective standard and not just “the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned.”[xvi]

Maryland instructs courts to review several factors in determining whether parties are “in custody” for purposes of Miranda. The primary factors include:

  • when and where the interrogation occurred,
  • how long it lasted, how many police were present,
  • what the officers and the defendant said and did,
  • the presence of actual physical restraint on the defendant or things equivalent to actual restraint such as drawn weapons or a guard stationed at the door, and
  • whether the defendant was being questioned as a suspect or as a witness.[xvii]

Additionally, courts consider the events that occurred immediately before and after the interrogation, such as:

  • how the defendant got to the place of questioning-whether he came completely on his own, in response to a police request, or escorted by police officers, and
  • whether the defendant left freely, was detained or arrested immediately after the interview.[xviii]

These factors, while not independently determinative, assist in determining whether a reasonable person would have felt free to break off the interrogation, which is the cornerstone of the Miranda-custody inquiry.

Under the facts, the Court held that the interrogation in Pryor’s home was non-custodial, and therefore Miranda warnings were not required. In so holding, the Court explained:

[T]he questioning took place around 8:30 p.m. at the dining room table in [Pryor’s] home. The two detectives had knocked on the door, identified themselves as police officers, and were invited in. The detectives did not threaten, promise inducements, or yell at [Pryor] during the questioning. Although they were armed, the detectives did not display their weapons. [Pryor] was not restrained in any way-he was not handcuffed at any time and the detectives did not come into physical contact with him at any time before or during the questioning. After the questioning was over, the detectives left appellant’s home-he was not arrested. Under the circumstances, we are persuaded that appellant was not in custody while questioned.[xix]

Further supporting its conclusion, the court highlighted the differences between the facts of the interrogation at issue from Orozco v. Texas, where four police officers entered the suspect’s bedroom in a boarding house at 4:00 a.m. and woke him from his sleep to question him.[xx] Bond v. State, similarly found custody present; however, there, three police officers entered the suspect’s bedroom of his trailer sometime after 10:30 p.m. and questioned him while he was sitting in bed with his shirt off.[xxi] Unlike such cases, the officers in Pryor arrived at a reasonable hour, discussed the case with the suspect at his dining room table, and did not arrest the suspect after the interview concluded. Accordingly, Miranda was inapplicable and no warning was necessary.

B.        What constitutes an interrogation or its functional equivalent?

In Adams v. Sate,[xxii] the Court of Special Appeals addressed whether police interaction with the suspect who had been placed under arrest was the “functional equivalent of interrogation.”[xxiii] The suspect, Marshall Adams, was incarcerated on charges of first-degree murder after he stabbed his friend during an argument.[xxiv] The prosecutor’s office asked a police detective to visit Adams and “personally serve [him] with notice of the State’s intent to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.”[xxv] Adams’ lawyer was not present when the detectives visited him; however, after giving Adams the document, the detective remained with him in order to “answer questions for him.”[xxvi]

After receiving the notice, Adams asked “[w]hy are they coming after me so hard?” In response, the detective answered “because you stabbed a guy 32 times.”[xxvii] Adams objected, stating that he had only stabbed the victim seven times, and then listed the location of each stab wound.[xxviii] At trial, the statements were admitted over Adams’ objection. On appeal, Adams challenged the admissibility of his statements and asserted that handing him the notice was the “functional equivalent” of an interrogation because it was designed to result in him making a statement.

Importantly, the Court noted that an interrogation need not involve “express questioning.”[xxix] Citing Rhode Island v. Innis,[xxx] the court held that such a limited application of Miranda would fail to effectively address “psychological ploys” employed by law enforcement personnel against suspects in custodial settings. Id. Accordingly, the Miranda safeguards come into play whenever a person in custody is subjected to express questioning and also any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.[xxxi] Therefore, the critical inquiry is whether an officer knew or should have known that their words or actions would be reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.[xxxii]

In concluding that the officer’s actions constituted the “functional equivalent” of an interrogation, the Court noted that the confession was not precipitated by a “chance encounter,” and was not a discussion initiated by the suspect.  Moreover, the confession did not arise from a spontaneous blurt out during a meaningless exchange of pleasantries, or other innocuous activity by the officer involved. Instead, the detective, who had known Adams since he was a child, arranged for the Adams to be taken from his cell to a more “comfortable” area of the detention center. The detective then sat down at a table with Adams and then handed him documents dealing with this case and told him to read the documents. At trial, the detective advised that he remained in the room while Adams read the documents because he “wanted to be there to answer questions for him.” Critically, when Adams asked the detective a question about the State’s approach to the case (“Why are they coming after me for this so hard?”), the detective did not simply refer Adams to his own attorney of record; rather, the detective confronted the defendant with an accusatory statement that contradicted the Adams’ prior statement.

Therefore, “[u]nder the totality of the circumstances,” the Court found that “any reasonable police officer could have reasonably anticipated that Adams would respond to the substance of [the] accusation, and that the response could be incriminating.” In reversing the conviction, the Court further explained that its holding was required “regardless of whether the detective acted in good faith in initiating this meeting outside the presence of Adams’s counsel,” because this encounter was the functional equivalent of interrogation. The conduct of providing Adams with documents likely to cause him to respond, while not explicit questioning, constituted conduct that was reasonably likely to result in the defendant making an inculpatory statement. Consequently, the statement was inadmissible.

  1. C. What does not constitute the functional equivalent of questioning?

In Prioleau v. State,[xxxiii] the Court of appeals held that a detective’s stating “What’s up, Maurice?” was not designed to elicit an incriminating response, and therefore it was not an interrogation or its functional equivalent.[xxxiv] In Prioleau, the detective asked the question as an innocuous greeting, and did not initiate the contact with the intent of initiating formal questioning or with the intent of causing the suspect to make any incriminating statements regarding any illegal activity.[xxxv] Therefore, when the suspect responded by making an incriminating statement, the “blurted out” response was admissible.[xxxvi] The Court found that, although he was in custody for the purposes of Miranda, his statement was not a result of police interrogation because the officer did not intend to obtain incriminating evidence and could not have reasonably foreseen the suspect’s response.[xxxvii]

Similarly, in Smith v. State,[xxxviii] the Court of Appeals found that the defendant’s statement was admissible after he “blurt[ed] out”[xxxix] an incriminatory statement.  In executing a warrant to search the defendant’s residence for CDS, police gathered the residents of the defendant’s apartment in one room.  After the police discovered CDS, an officer announced that “everyone was to be arrested.”[xl] In response, the defendant spontaneously admitted ownership of the CDS in order to prevent his girlfriend, who was also present, from being arrested.[xli] The court found that the officer’s display of the CDS and his statement were not likely to elicit incriminating responses, and were therefore not the functional equivalent of interrogation.[xlii] The court’s finding was based on the fact that, in its view, a reasonable officer would not have known that announcing the decision to arrest the occupants would lead the defendant to spontaneously claim ownership of the CDS.[xliii]

In Rodriguez v. State,[xliv] the defendant was arrested for burglary after police observed him acting erratically in a vehicle outside the restaurant that had been burglarized.[xlv] The police found tools similar to those used in the burglary in the back of the defendant’s car.[xlvi] While being driven to the police station, the defendant continued behaving strangely, acting angry and agitated one minute, and lethargic and despondent the next.[xlvii] The officer driving the car asked the defendant a series of questions in an effort to “calm him down,” as well as to determine if he needed to be taken to the hospital.[xlviii]

In response to the question “have you ever been arrested before,” the defendant answered, “I can’t keep doing this.  I’m already in trouble.  I’m going to jail.  I did it.”[xlix] In reviewing the trial court’s decision to admit the statements, the Courts of Special Appeals found that the officer had not asked the defendant questions with the intent to elicit incriminating statements, and that a reasonable officer would not have believed that the questions were likely to elicit an incriminating response.[l] Therefore, the court found that Miranda was inapplicable and affirmed the admission of the testimony.[li]

[i] 384 U.S. 486 (1966).

[ii] Id. at 490-491.

[iii] Dickerson v. U.S., 530 U.S. 428, 437 (2000).

[iv] Id. at 435.

[v] Id. at 435-436.

[vi] Id. at 444.

[vii] Berkermer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984); Mathis v. U.S., 391 U.S. 1 (1968).

[viii] California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121 (1983).

[ix] Berkermer, 468 U.S. at 441; Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99 (1995); Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984); Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454 (1981); Mathis v. U.S., 391 U.S. 1 (1968).

[x] Mathis, 391 U.S. at 5-6.

[xi] See Blake v. State, 381 Md. 218 (2004) (officer delivering a statement of charges with the heading “death penalty eligible” to the Defendant, then asking “I’ll bet you want to talk now, huh?” was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response).

[xii] Pryor v. State, ___ Md. App. ____ (2010) (October 1, 2010).

[xiii] Pryor unsuccessfully challenged the admissibility of the statement under the wiretap statute.

[xiv]Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444 (footnote omitted).

[xv] Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 128 L.Ed.2d 293 (1994) (quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted).

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] State v. Rucker, 374 Md. 199, 209, 821 A.2d 439 (2003) (citations omitted).

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Pryor, ____ Md. App. at *5.

[xx] 394 U.S. 324, 325, 89 S.Ct. 1095, 22 L.Ed.2d 311 (1969).

[xxi] 142 Md.App. 219, 223-24, 788 A.2d 705 (2002).

[xxii] 192 Md.App. 469 (2010).

[xxiii] Id. at 480.

[xxiv] Id. at 473-474.

[xxv] Id. at 475.

[xxvi] Id. at 476.

[xxvii] Id.

[xxviii] Id. at 477.

[xxix] Id. (Citing Prioleau v. State, 179 Md.App. 19, 27, 943 A.2d 696 (2008)).

[xxx] 446 U.S. 291, 298-99, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 64 L.Ed.2d 297 (1980).

[xxxi] Id. at 301, 100 S.Ct. 1682 (footnotes omitted).

[xxxii] Id.

[xxxiii] 411 Md. 629 (2009).

[xxxiv] Id. at 651.

[xxxv] Id. at 644.

[xxxvi] Id. at 640.

[xxxvii] Id. at 632.

[xxxviii] 414 Md. 357 (2010).

[xxxix] Id. at 367.

[xl] Id. at 359.

[xli] Id. at 363.

[xlii] Id. at 370-371.

[xliii] Id. at 367.

[xliv] 191 Md.App. 196 (2010).

[xlv] Id. at 204.

[xlvi] Id.

[xlvii] Id. at 221.

[xlviii] Id. at 210.

[xlix] Id. at 209.

[l] Id. at 219-220.

[li] Id. at 222.

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