Suspecting (but without probable cause) that a 17 year-old defendant was involved in a murder, three officers went to his home at 3 a.m. on a January morning. They were granted entry to the home by the defendant’s father, and immediately went to the defendant’s room, where they found him asleep. One of the officers awoke the defendant with a flashlight, identified himself, and stated, “we need to go and talk.” The defendant’s reply was “okay.” The officers handcuffed the defendant and led him out of the house, putting him into a patrol car. The defendant was shoeless and wearing only boxer shorts and a Tshirt. At no point did the officers tell the defendant that he was free to leave. The officers took the defendant to their interview room, removed the handcuffs, and advised him of his Miranda rights. After initially denying his involvement, the defendant made incriminating statements.
Whether the defendant’s illegal arrest tainted his subsequent statements about his involvement in the crime?
Yes. Unless the government can demonstrate that the statements were not the direct result of an illegal arrest, the statements were involuntarily obtained.
The Court did not consider the defendant’s statement “okay” as a basis for a consensual encounter. It found that the “removal from one’s house in handcuffs on a January night with nothing on but underwear for a trip to a crime scene on the way to an interview room at law enforcement headquarters” to be a seizure. Though the Supreme Court has authorized certain seizures on something less than probable cause, it has never approved the involuntary removal of a suspect from his home for investigative purposes absent probable cause or judicial authorization.
This illegal arrest requires suppression of any subsequent statements unless the government can demonstrate they were made as “an act of free will [sufficient] to purge the primary taint of the unlawful invasion” (citing Wong Sun v. United States). Significant factors to examine include the providing of Miranda warnings, the sequential nearness of the illegal arrest and the statement, intervening circumstances, and, especially, the reason and flagrancy of the government’s misbehavior. In this case, the Court noted that only one of these factors (providing of Miranda warnings) supported the government. The Court previously held that the provision of Miranda warnings does not, by itself, automatically break the misconduct chain. All other factors favored the defendant’s position.
538 U.S. 626, 123 S. Ct. 1843 (2003)