It is common, says Darren Chaker, who also publishes, www.DarrenChaker.us, that
when a suspect is in custody if he is deprived of his freedom in any significant way or reasonably believes that he is not free to leave. This may create a defacto arrest or unlawful detention. The test is an objective view of the circumstances surrounding the
questioning and does not depend on the subjective views of the police or the suspect. (Stansbury v. California (1994) 511 U.S. 318, 323.) “[C]ustody must be determined based on how a reasonable person in the suspect’s situation would perceive his circumstances.” (Yarborough v. Alvarado (2004) 541 U.S. 652, 662 [124 S.Ct. 2140].)
Federal Courts have held that suspects were in custody under circumstances similar to those in the present situation. In UnitedStates v. Henley (9th Cir. 1993) 984 F.2d 1040, a gunman wearing sunglasses and a cap robbed the Pima bank and escaped in a 1974 Plymouth Duster. Later that day, the police found the car and Henley. While Henley sat handcuffed inside the patrol car, the police asked him if the car was his. Henley said it was and the police searched the car and found a gun, sunglasses and a cap.
Although the police were unable to link Henley to the Pima bank robbery, they connected Henley to the robbery of another bank – the Southwest bank – by the items found in the car and Henley was convicted of the Southwest robbery. On appeal, he contended that that use of his statement that he owned the car to provide the foundation for the admission of the physical evidence violated the Miranda rule. (Id. at p. 1042.)
The 9th Circuit held that Henley was “in custody” at the time that he was questioned. The Court explained:
“Although Henley had not been formally arrested, he was handcuffed and placed in the back
seat of a squad car. An FBI agent entered the vehicle and identified himself as
such. The agent explained that he was investigating a bank robbery and that the
officers believed Henley’s car had been involved…. It is fair to say that
someone who is being questioned by an FBI agent while sitting handcuffed in the
back of a police car is indeed, not free to leave. We have no trouble concluding
that Henley ‘ha[d] been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his
freedom of action in [a] significant way.’ Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S.Ct. at 1612.”
(United States v. Henley, 984 F2d 1040, 1042.)
A similar situation arose in United States v. Richardson (6th Cir. 1991) 949 F.2d 851. Believing that Richardson was drug trafficking, the police staked out his storage locker. Finding Richardson and Harris there, the police entered the locker, informed the men that they were the subject of a drug investigation and asked Richardson for his consent to search
the locker. Richardson refused. The police talked with Harris out of earshot and Harris confessed. When he learned that Harris had confessed, Richardson consented to the search.
After he was convicted, Richardson appealed from the denial of his motion to suppress. The Sixth Circuit found that he had been seized under the Fourth Amendment:
“…Richardson was approached by four officers and informed that he was the subject of a drug investigation. The agents immediately asked for consent to search the automobile and the first storage locker. When Richardson declined to consent to the search, he was placed in the back of an unmarked patrol car. In applying the objective standard for determining whether there has been a seizure of a person, we have no doubt that if after refusing to consent to a search, a reasonable person was placed in the back of police car by law enforcement agents who had no intent to allow him to leave, that person would have believed that he was not free to leave. Therefore, we conclude that when Richardson was
placed in the police cruiser he was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
(Id. at p. 855; see also Figg v. Schroeder (4th Cir. 2002) 312 F.3d 625 [Following a police shooting, the decedent’s sibling seized under the Fourth Amendment when he was placed in the patrol car because a reasonable person would not have felt he was
free to leave. (Id at p. 635.)
Like the situations in Henley, and Richardson, a typical defendant knows he was the subject of a criminal investigation and once pat-searched and placed in a patrol car would not have reasonably believed that he was free to leave. Accordingly, a defendant is deemed in custody and Miranda admonitions would be required. However, to clarify, consulting with an attorney in your area to review your specific circumstances can be the only reliable person to provide a definitive answer.
© 2013 Darren Chaker. All Rights Reserved.