Greensboro attorneys often discuss the meaning of custody in North Carolina wit their clients, i.e., “When to Not Speak.”
It is commonly known in modern society that when placed under arrest you have the right to remain silent in order to protect yourself from self-incrimination. We have the 1996 seminal Miranda v. Arizona case to thank for such rights, now widely referred to as Miranda Rights. Miranda lays the foundation for what specific rights an individual is entitled to when placed in police custody however, the case fails to define what actually constitutes “in police custody,” ultimately triggering enforcement of the Miranda rule.
When a person is physically placed in handcuffs, patted down, and explicitly told that they are under arrest, it is clear that the individual is in fact in police custody. But what happens when the handcuffs or restraints are not physically on the individual, yet the individual’s movement is restrained beyond their control?
The North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have recently made great strides in defining the meaning of “in custody” as it applies in criminal courts throughout the state, by now looking at the totality of the circumstances regarding the either voluntary or involuntary confinement. See, Howes v. Fields, 132 S. Ct. 1181, 1194 (2012).
For example, in State v. Hammonds, where a mentally ill defendant was held in a 24-hour facility made incriminating statements (while still in the facility) to detectives when questioned about a recent armed robbery, the N.C. Supreme Court found that the defendant was involuntary committed as a result of a magistrate’s finding and thus unaware that his statements were going to be used against him in the future. On June 10, 2016, the court filed a opinion that the defendant’s Miranda rights were in fact violated; the defendant was already in custody at the time of the interrogation and the totality of the situation suggested that the defendant reasonably did not believe he was actually in “police custody” when his statements were given to detectives.
The June 7, 2016 case, State v. Portillo, looks at a situation where a defendant was receiving medical care at a hospital and while restrained in bed due to his injuries, answered officers’ seemingly casual questions. When officers attempted to introduce the defendant’s statements into evidence, the N.C. Court of Appeals held that the defendant had no legitimate reason to believe he was in custody or that officers were conducting an official interrogation. Thus, the defendant’s Miranda rights were violated when he was questioned by officers with no acknowledgement of their intention to place him in police custody.
Overall, it seems as if the higher courts of N.C. are now widely applying a stricter definition of what it means to be “in custody” when the answer is not clearly seen through the use of handcuffs or actual restraints. If a situation suggests that a defendant was restrained involuntarily and/or circumstances indicate that the defendant was legitimately and reasonably unaware that he was in police custody, any interrogation and statements during such “custody” may be a violation of the Miranda rule.
If officers do not place you in any form of physical restraint it is best to make sure you are aware of your custodial standing before beginning to speak voluntarily with officers. Under the Miranda rule, when placed in actual police custody you have the right to know and understand your individual rights before interrogated by police. If you have questions about a specific criminal situation or would like more information regarding criminal law and representation, please click here.