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Miranda Violation

Miranda Violation, The Two-Step Interrogation

Miranda warnings are designed as a prophylactic measure to deter U.S. Law enforcement from resorting to coercive interrogation techniques. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The Supreme Court has twice considered the effect of a prior, unwarned statement on the admissibility of a subsequent Mirandized confession. See Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985); Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). Oregon v. Elstad permits admission of an un-Mirandized confession if the Miranda violation is unintentional and the confession is knowingly and voluntarily made. See Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298. Missouri v. Seibert creates an exception to that general rule whenever government officials deliberately withhold Miranda warnings as part of a two-step interrogation strategy. See Wallace v. Branker, 354 Fed. Appx. 807, 823-24 (4th Cir. 2009).

In Oregon v. Elstad, the initial Miranda violation in occurred at the time of the suspect's arrest, rather than in a formal custodial interrogation setting. Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. at 300. Officers visited the suspect's home to execute an arrest warrant. They made “a brief stop in the living room” where one spoke with the defendant's mother while the other told the defendant he “felt' he was involved in the crime. Id. at 301, 315. The defendant replied by making an inculpatory statement. Id. at 301. The officers then executed the warrant and transported the defendant to the police station where they administered Miranda warnings prior to obtaining a full confession. Id.

The Court premised Oregon v. Elstad's finding of admissibility on the unintentional nature of the Miranda violation at issue. See Missouri v. Seibert 542 U.S. at 615. The purpose of the arresting officers' presence in the living room “was not to interrogate the suspect but to notify his mother of the reason for his arrest.” Id. at 314. The lack of Miranda warnings was not intentional, but rather an “oversight” that “may have been the result of confusion as to whether the brief exchange qualified as ‘custodial interrogation.'” Id. at 315, 316. Furthermore, the initial questioning bore “none of the earmarks of coercion.” Id. at 316. For these reasons Miranda's primary functions as a prophylactic rule deterring unlawful police behavior and ensuring the trustworthiness of confessions were not implicated. Id. at 308.

The Elstad Court limited the scope of its holding and warned against efforts by law enforcement to misread its intent. “We must conclude,” the Court wrote, “that absent deliberately coercive or improper tactics in obtaining the initial statement, the mere fact that a suspect has made an unwarned admission does not warrant a presumption of compulsion.” Id. at 314 (emphasis added). Indeed, Justice Brennan's dissent expressed concern that the Court's holding would validate question-first interrogation tactics. Id. at 319-321, 362-64.

Following Elstad, the Court heard Missouri v. Seibert and squarely addressed the issue of the question-first interrogation tactic used by law enforcement. In Missouri v. Seibert, the Court articulated an exception to Elstad's general rule in favor of admissibility. Police in Seibert believed the defendant was involved in the murder of her twelve-year-old, physically handicapped son. 542 U.S. at 604. The arresting officer's superior instructed him to omit Miranda warnings pursuant to the department's question-first interrogation strategy. Id. During the initial un-Mirandized interrogation, the suspect admitted to the crime. Id. at 605. The officer then left for a twenty-minute break and returned to administered Miranda warnings. The then obtained a signed waiver of rights and a confession. Id. The officer never advised the defendant that her prior statements were inadmissible. Id.

Because no rationale in Seibert garnered a majority, and Justice Kennedy concurred on the narrowest grounds, his opinion is treated as the Court's holding. See Wallace v. Branker, 354 Fed. Appx. At 823. The four-Justice plurality considered it “likely that if the interrogators employ the technique of withholding warnings until after interrogation succeeds in eliciting a confession, the warnings will be ineffective in preparing the suspect for successive interrogation, close in time and similar in content.” Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. at 610. Justice Kennedy concurred with the plurality that a deliberate question-first tactic violates Miranda, and that post-warning statements are then inadmissible. 542 U.S. at 618 (Kennedy, J., concurring). He wrote separately only to express his concern that the plurality's test would treat “intentional and unintentional two-stage interrogations” similarly. Id. at 621.

Justice Kennedy's analysis dictates that a confession elicited subsequent to intentional Miranda violation inadmissible unless specific curative steps are taken prior to the Mirandized interrogation. Id. These curative measures are “to ensure that a reasonable person in the suspect's situation would understand the import and effect of the Miranda warning and of the Miranda waiver.” Id. Justice Kennedy provided examples of two measures that “[m]ay suffice in most circumstances.” Id. (emphasis added). First, a significant time lapse and variation of circumstances between the un-Mirandized and Mirandized interrogations might allow defendants “to distinguish the two contexts and appreciate that the interrogation has taken a new turn.” Id. Second, “an additional warning that explains the likely inadmissibility of the pre-warning custodial statement may be sufficient.” Id. (emphasis added).

In cases where an intentional Miranda violation precedes a Mirandized interrogation, the Government faces a “heavy burden” of establishing a confession's admissibility. See United States v. Capers, 627 F.3d 470, 480 (2nd Cir. 2010). This is because Miranda places a “heavy burden [upon] the government to demonstrate that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his privilege against self-incrimination.” Berhuis v. Thompkins, 130 S.Ct. 2250 (2010). “Once a law enforcement officer has detained a suspect and subjects him to interrogation….there is rarely, if ever, a legitimate reason to delay giving a Miranda warning until after the suspect has confessed. Instead, the most plausible reason…is an illegitimate one, which is the interrogator's desire to weaken the warning's effectiveness.” United States v. Williams 435 F.3d 1148, 1159 (9th Cir. 2006).

Proper Miranda warnings are critical to upholding the principles of justice system.  If you believe your Miranda rights were violated, it is important that you have experienced attorneys on your side. Contact us to assess your possible Miranda violation and defenses.

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