Custodial Interrogation or Friendly Chat

By May 24, 2011Sex Crimes

Fort Worth false confession attorneysAs I wait on more slip opinions from the Court of Criminal Appeals, I’ve been randomly sifting through Courts of Appeals opinions. Today, the 7th District Court of Appeals (Amarillo) released a rather concise opinion in an aggravated sexual assault case regarding a “custodial interrogation.” It’s worth an equally concise post.

In McGee v. State, appellant complained, inter alia, that his confession should have been suppressed because he was not given Miranda warning prior to issuing his confession to the police. Unconvinced, the Court of Appeals noted that appellant signed a written document containing Miranda warnings before he began speaking with police officers. The Court went on to state that “even if the warnings afforded appellant were somehow deficient, the record contained sufficient factual basis upon which the trial court could have reasonably found that appellant was not in custody at the time.”

Here are the facts to the Court highlighted to demonstrate that appellant was not “in custody” when he gave his confession:

1) Appellant transported himself to the police station to undergo a polygraph examination and questioning;
2) Questioning occurred in a rather large 15’ by 15’ room;
3) He was never told he was under arrest;
4) He was told he was free to go at any time;
5) No one threatened him;
6) No one restrained him;
7) Those asking the questions and administering the polygraph would have stopped if appellant indicated that he wanted to leave;
8) Appellant was at the station for approximately 2.5 hours before confessing;
9) He had no marks on him to indicate that he underwent any kind of physical abuse;
10) He not only was asked if he wanted to take a break or use the bathroom but also was told that he did not have to be there before the examination began;
11) He left that station after the interview; and
12) Nothing indicates that appellant ever attempted to leave, stop the questioning, take a break, or the like.

It seems to me like the Court if stretching a bit with some of those justifications. With an apparent affinity toward list-making, the Court went on to outline scenarios that would lead them to believe a person was in “custody” and therefore the subject of a vlid “custodial interrogation:”

1) If appellant was physically deprived of his freedom in any significant way;
2) If someone told him he could not leave;
3) If the officers created an environment that would lead a reasonable person to believe his freedom of movement was significantly restricted; or
4) If there existed probable cause to arrest appellant and the officers told him he was not free to leave.

The Court explained, “[h]ad any of those four scenarios arose then appellant would have been in custody, but the evidence before us allowed the trial court of legitimately conclude otherwise.”

Seems simple enough. The problem is with the trial court interpretation of those four maxims.

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