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Arizona Supreme Court - State v. Maciel & Miranda Rights

Posted by James A. Charnesky | Feb 06, 2018 | 0 Comments

Miranda - Largely Misunderstood

Most people are familiar with "Miranda" warnings - the warnings that we hear television cops read to the bad guys when they make a bust.  While most know what Miranda warnings are, it is also fair to say that the warnings are widely misunderstood. Miranda warnings arose out of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona.  

Miranda requires that officers let you know of certain facts after your arrest, before questioning you. An officer who is going to interrogate you must convey to you that:

  • You have the right to remain silent.

  • If you do say anything, it can be used against you in a court of law.

  • You have the right to have a lawyer present during any questioning.

  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire.

Courts have held that these warnings are deemed necessary because “without proper safeguards the process of in-custody interrogation of persons suspected or accused of crime contains inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely.

Most people understand these statements, having heard them numerous times watching crime dramas on television. That being said, many people do not understand when these rights actually have to be given, and what the consequences are if the rights are not read. Perhaps the biggest misconception regarding Miranda warnings is the belief that police must read them for an arrest to be valid.  

 "The cops did not read me my Miranda rights, doesn't that mean that they have to drop my case..."

It's a common question asked of me by clients.  No. It is a common misperception among the public that if Miranda rights are not read then their arrest is invalid. Miranda rights apply to statements made by a defendant that a prosecutor intends to use against them as part of their criminal case.  A failure to read Miranda rights affects the admissibility of statements made by a suspect, but the warnings are not required to arrest someone. 

"So When Do Miranda Warnings Have To Be Given?"

The general standard followed by many over the years was that if a person was questioned while detained, they needed to be read Miranda warnings. In years past, the Arizona courts have held that whether a person is “in custody” for Miranda purposes ultimately depends on whether there is a “formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest.” See State v. Cruz-Mata, 138 Ariz. 370, 373, 674 P.2d 1368, 1371 (1983).  Under this understanding, Miranda rights attached during any “custodial interrogation” (when a person is substantially deprived of their freedom and not free to leave) even if the suspect hasn't been formally arrested.

In such circumstances, a failure to read the Miranda warnings would render statements inadmissible. Today, while this might be true, it is not necessarily true.  Recent decisions by courts have significantly weakened or narrowed the scope of Miranda.  Today, there are many circumstances where police may question an individual who is not free to leave, and has not been read Miranda warnings.  These court cases make clear that being detained is simply the first threshold.  Per the courts, a person must not only be detained, but also be in a coercive environment.

State v. Maciel, 240 Ariz. 46, 49, 12, 375 P.3d 938, 941 (2016)

The Arizona Supreme Court recently published a new case addressing Miranda rights. The holding of this case is in line with the continuing trend of courts limiting the reach of Miranda. Here are key takeaways from State v. Maciel.

  • In order for Miranda warnings to be necessary, a person must be in what the court calls "Miranda Custody." 

  • "Miranda custody" is not simply being in custody or detained. Per the court, restraint on freedom of movement alone does not establish "Miranda custody." 

  • Per the court, "Miranda custody" is coercive custody. 

  • "Miranda custody" requires not only curtailment of an individual's freedom of action, but also an environment that presents the same inherently coercive pressures as the type of station house questioning at issue in Miranda.


How Do You Know When You Are In "Miranda Custody?"

In Maciel, the Arizona Supreme Court laid out a "test" to determine "Miranda custody."  Per the court, when determining whether a person is in "Miranda custody," courts are to look to see whether freedom of action was significantly curtailed and, if so, whether the environment presented inherently coercive pressures.

The courts listed a number of considerations, with the most significant being:

  1. The site of the questioning,
  2. The presence of objective indicia of arrest, and 

  3. The length and form of the interrogation.

The court went on to expand on its thinking, noting that in regard to the site of the questioning, questioning in unfamiliar surroundings and isolation would suggest a coercive environment, while common investigative stops conducted in public such as traffic stops commonly do not constitute "Miranda custody."

Another factor the court noted is the length of interrogation. Again, traffic stops that are characterized as being temporary and relatively nonthreatening typically do not constitute Miranda custody.

Lastly, the court also took notice of the intensity of police presence.  A few police were thought by the court to not be intimidating, while large numbers of police were thought to be coercive. 

Maciel And DUI

So how does all of this relate to the DUI?  Every case is dependent upon the their own particular facts, but in general, Maciel seems clear that questions asked in the course of a traffic stop, and in public view, are generally not considered to be coercive and thus not violations of Miranda. So, initial questions regarding whether one has had something to drink, where they have been, etc. would likely not be considered a Miranda violation.  More detailed questions after a full DUI investigation, might call for Miranda warnings depending upon the facts of the case.  Obviously the longer length of detainment and the threat of imminent incarceration make the circumstances much more coercive. 

About the Author

James A. Charnesky

James Charnesky is a Tucson DUI Defense Lawyer. His practice has always been committed to criminal defense. He has NEVER prosecuted, and has ALWAYS fought for the rights of the accused.


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