Question: Does a peace officer’s factually accurate statement to a suspect violate the Fifth Amendment as an un-Mirandized interrogation if the suspect responds with an incriminating statement?
Quick answer: No.
Facts: Early one morning, an officer on patrol observed a car traveling 55 mph in a 45-mph zone. The officer stopped the vehicle for speeding, and during the stop, four other police cruisers arrived on the scene. A different officer witnessed defendant Michael Collins, a passenger in the speeding car, reach down toward the car’s floorboard, as if he was trying to retrieve or hide something. The driver gave officers permission to search the vehicle. They found a loaded .22-caliber handgun under the front passenger seat, where Collins had reached earlier. When officers first asked who owned the gun, neither Collins nor the driver admitted to ownership. One of the officers told the men that, because neither of them would claim the gun, the officer would have to charge them both with possession. At that point, Collins told the officer, “I will take the charge” and admitted to owning the gun. He later signed a Miranda waiver and written statement, confessing to ownership of the weapon. However, he later moved to suppress his statements, alleging a Miranda violation.
Why this case is important: The court found that Collins’ statement to police was voluntary and was not made in response to an interrogation. An interrogation involves not just express police questioning, but also any words or actions on the part of the officers (other than those normally related to arrest and custody) that they should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect. In Collins’ case, the officer’s statement about charging both Collins and the driver was not a threat to coerce a confession, but a factually accurate statement that explained what the officer had to do because no one claimed the gun. Such statements cannot reasonably be expected to prompt an incriminating statement, so no police interrogation occurred before Collins admitted to owning the gun.
Keep in mind: If a traffic stop turns into a criminal investigation, you do not have to Mirandize the suspect until you place him in custody and begin questioning him about the new crime. Therefore, you can explain what’s happening to the suspect without needing to give the suspect his Miranda warning. During that time, if the suspect makes any unsolicited statements to implicate himself, those statements are fair game to be used against him later in court.
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