Custodial Interrogations and Miranda Warnings in Texas

What does it mean to be in custody?

The warnings set out in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 467-73 (1966), safeguard a person’s constitutional privilege against self-incrimination during a custodial interrogation. Herrera, 241 S.W.3d at 525. Custodial interrogation is questioning by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. Id. (citing Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444). Unwarned statements obtained as a result of custodial interrogation may not be used by the State in a criminal proceeding during its case-in-chief. Id.

However, the State bears no burden to show compliance with Miranda or the similar warnings required by article 38.22 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, unless and until a defendant establishes that the statements he seeks to suppress were the product of custodial interrogation. Id. at 526.

To determine whether an individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda, the United States Supreme Court has announced two essential inquiries: (1) “what were the circumstances surrounding the investigation;” and (2) “given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.” Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995). According to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the primary inquiry in making a custody determination is whether a reasonable person would perceive the

detention to be a restraint on his movement comparable to formal arrest, given all of the objective circumstances. Ortiz, 382 S.W.3d at 372. Under this inquiry, courts look only to the objective factors surrounding the detention. Id. Ordinarily, the subjective beliefs of the detaining officer are not included in the calculation of whether a suspect is in custody. Id. at 372-73. However, if the officer manifests his belief to the detainee that he is a suspect, then that officer’s subjective belief becomes relevant to the determination of whether a reasonable person in the detainee’s position would believe he is in custody. Id. at 373.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has identified four general situations that may constitute custody: (1) when the suspect is physically deprived of his freedom in any significant way, (2) when a law enforcement officer tells the suspect he cannot leave, (3) when law enforcement officers create a situation that would lead a reasonable person to believe his freedom of movement has been significantly restricted, and (4) when there is probable cause to arrest and law enforcement officers do not tell the suspect he is free to leave. Dowthitt v. State, 931 S.W.2d 244, 255 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). As to the fourth situation, the officer’s knowledge of probable cause must be manifested to the suspect. Id.; Miller v. State, 196 S.W.3d 256, 265 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2006, pet. ref’d). Such manifestation could occur if information sustaining the probable cause was related by the officer to the suspect or by the suspect to the officer. Dowthitt, 931 S.W.2d at 255; Miller, 196 S.W.3d at 265. The fourth situation does not automatically establish custody; custody is only established if the manifestation of probable cause, combined with other circumstances, would lead a reasonable person to believe that he is under restraint to the degree associated with an arrest. Dowthitt, 931 S.W.2d at 255; Miller, 196 S.W.3d at 265. Situations in which the manifestation of probable cause triggers custody are unusual. Hodson v. State, 350 S.W.3d 169, 174 (Tex. App.—2011, pet. ref’d) (citing State v. Stevenson, 958 S.W.2d 824, 829 n.7 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997)).

Courts evaluate whether a person has been detained to the degree associated with a formal arrest on an ad hoc, or case-by-case, basis. Ortiz, 382 S.W.3d at 372; Dowthitt, 931 S.W.2d at 255.

In conducting this inquiry, courts consider a variety of factors, including but not limited to the location of the questioning; the duration of the questioning; the tone and content of the questioning; the number of officers present during the questioning; and whether the officers honored requests for food, breaks, or contact with friends or relatives during the questioning. See Hines v. State, 383 S.W.3d 615, 622 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2012, pet. ref’d) (concluding the appellant was not in custody when police initially questioned him to investigate an accident and he was questioned in plain view of passing cars and the public); Espinoza v. State, 185 S.W.3d 1, 4-5 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2005, no pet.) (concluding the trial court correctly found the appellant was not in custody when she freely went to the police station, was never restrained in her movements, and was free to leave at all times); Hernandez v. State, 107 S.W.3d 41, 48 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2003, pet. ref’d) (concluding the appellant was not in custody for Miranda purposes when he was subjected to brief questioning in a public place and the officer did not immediately communicate to the appellant his intention to arrest).

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