Did the Police Violate My Miranda Rights During a DUI Investigation?

The Bussey Law Firm PC has a long history of successfully representing citizens accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Colorado. Over the years it has been common for clients to point out that during the stop and arrest, the police officer did not advise them of their Miranda rights. Let’s take a look at Miranda rights and Miranda violations in DUI investigations.

Miranda refers to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the well known United States Supreme Court case which held that a suspect must be advised of her right to remain silent and her right to counsel prior to custodial interrogation. When this rule has been violated, the accused is entitled to have statements made under such conditions suppressed, which means excluded from evidence to be considered at trial. Suppression is usually valuable to the accused because it means the prosecution has less evidence with which to meet its burden of proof.

Did the Police Violate My Miranda Rights During a DUI Investigation?In order for the Miranda rule to apply, however, the person being questioned by law enforcement officers must first be in “custody,” which is a legal term of art. During an ordinary traffic stop for, say, speeding, the driver and her passengers are seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Yet being seized or detained is not legally equivalent to being in custody for purposes of Miranda, which arises under Fifth Amendment principles. Courts generally hold that custody for purposes of Miranda arises when the conditions of the detention resemble those traditionally associated with a formal arrest.

The Supreme Court examined the issue of Miranda with respect to driving cases in Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984). In Berkemer, an Ohio patrolman pulled McCarty over for weaving, and asked him to get out of the car. The patrolman let McCarty know he was suspected of driving while intoxicated, and requested McCarty’s participation in roadside sobriety testing. McCarty’s performance on the tests was poor. McCarty also admitted having consumed two beers and smoked marijuana a short time before. McCarty was then formally arrested and taken to the jail for a breath test that indicated there was no alcohol in McCarty’s system. McCarty was then questioned again at the jail, still without a Miranda advisement. During such questioning McCarty admitted he had been slightly intoxicated and had consumed alcohol. One can see how McCarty’s statements would be useful to the prosecution given the otherwise exculpatory breath test. At issue, therefore, was whether any of McCarty’s statements could be admitted as evidence at trial, despite the absence of a Miranda advisement.

The United States Supreme Court rejected the prosecution’s theory that no Miranda advisement is ever required in misdemeanor driving cases. In so doing, the Court acknowledged a distinction between simple traffic investigations and situations in which the suspected offense is more serious and the investigative measures are correspondingly more intrusive.

The Court reasoned in Berkemer that although an ordinary traffic stop curtails the “freedom of action” of the detained motorist and imposes some pressures on the detainee to answer questions, such pressures do not sufficiently impair the detainee’s exercise of his privilege against self-incrimination to require that he be warned of his constitutional rights. A traffic stop is usually brief, and the motorist expects that, while he may be given a citation, he or she will soon be allowed to continue on their way. Moreover, the typical traffic stop is conducted in public, and the atmosphere surrounding it is substantially less “police dominated” than at a police station where the suspect is held in seclusion and is at the risk of an intimidating show of police authority.

Just as certainly, however, the conditions of an ordinary traffic stop may evolve into a more serious investigation. The Court recognized this in Berkemer. A driver is deemed to be in custody at the point where the confrontation between police and citizen has escalated and a reasonable person in the driver’s position would feel subject to the constraints traditionally associated with a formal arrest. At that point, a Miranda advisement is necessary before further questioning of the driver. In Berkemer the Court found the driver was not in custody during the initial roadside detention. Custody arose, however, once McCarty had been transported away from the scene and to the police station, a measure unmistakably associated with the conditions of a formal arrest.

The Colorado Supreme Court followed the holding of Berkemer v. McCarty, in the case of People v. Archuleta, 719 P.2d 1091 (Colo. 1986)In that case, Archuleta was pulled over for weaving. Upon making contact, the sheriff’s deputy noticed Archuleta’s eyes were bloodshot and detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage. Archuleta was asked to exit his vehicle and perform roadside tests. At some point during this sequence of events, the sheriff’s deputy asked Archuleta where he was going and where he had been. Archuleta replied that he was going home, and he had stopped to have a few beers after work. Archuleta was formally arrested and charged. Before trial, he challenged the use of his statements as evidence since he had not been advised of his Miranda rights.

The Colorado Supreme Court, in a relatively short written opinion, adopted the reasoning of Berkemer v. McCarty. The Court recognized that, “should the detained person be subjected to treatment that renders him ‘in custody’ for practical purposes, he is entitled to the full panoply of protections prescribed by Miranda.” The Court pointed out that, “such a determination must be made on a case-by-case basis.” Instead of conclusively resolving the Miranda question under the case-specific circumstances in Archuleta, the Colorado Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to follow the guidance of Berkemer.

In light of these precedents, each case features circumstances which may or may not support a finding that the driver was in custody for Miranda purposes. A custodial situation is more likely to arise, for example, when there has been a traffic accident involving physical injuries or death. Custody may also arise during a relatively ordinary DUI investigation, depending on the conditions. Defense counsel must look for circumstances tending to show that a reasonable person in the driver’s situation would have realized she was suspected of a serious crime, including DUI, and that the detention was unlikely to be cursory and brief. Attention to details, including the severity of crime suspected, witness statements, police reports, and video produced by the police officer’s dash-cam or body-worn camera, can help tip the case toward favorable evidentiary rulings under Miranda or other doctrines.

Remember that even a violation of Miranda does not mean a DUI charge will be dismissed. But a favorable Miranda ruling can increase the likelihood of success at trial. It can also increase leverage for the defendant in pretrial plea negotiations with the prosecutor.

The Bussey Law Firm PC is very experienced in handling Miranda issues and other defense strategies in cases where the client is charged with driving under the influence. Contact the Bussey Law Firm PC for your driving under the influence defense. The Bussey Law Firm PC is a nationally recognized law firm defending people charged with DUI. Mr. Bussey is a speaker at national DUI seminars, a nationally published author, a contributor to the Colorado DUI Benchbook, a former Board of Directors for DUIDLA (DUI Defense Lawyers Association), a sustaining member of the NCDD (National College of DUI Defense Attorneys). He and his firm have additional credentials one can view at www.thebusseylawfirm.com.