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Stansbury v. California


The defendant was thought to be a witness to a homicide. When he was contacted by three police officers at his home, the defendant agreed to go to the police station for an interview. Upon arrival, the defendant was questioned by officers about his whereabouts at the time of the murder. The lead officer did not provide the defendant with Miranda warnings before he asked these questions. However, when the defendant mentioned that he had been driving a vehicle that matched the description given by another witness, one of the officers suspected that the defendant was involved in the murder. When the defendant then admitted that he had previously been convicted of rape, kidnapping, and child molestation, the officers terminated the interview and a different officer advised the defendant of his Miranda rights. The defendant declined to answer any further questions, requested an attorney, and was arrested. At trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements made to the government, as well as all evidence discovered as a result of those statements.


Whether an officer’s subjective view concerning whether the person being interviewed is a suspect is relevant to whether the person is in “custody?”


No. An officer’s subjective thoughts regarding a suspect is irrelevant to the assessment of whether the person is in “custody.”


An officer is required to administer Miranda warnings whenever an individual is questioned while in custody (or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way). In determining whether an individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda, courts use the “totality of the circumstances” test. Previous decisions of the Court, however, clearly provide that “the initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being questioned.” The requirement to 336 Fifth Amendment

administer Miranda warnings does not depend on whether the person being questioned is the focus of the government’s investigation, but on “how a reasonable man in the suspect’s position would have understood his situation.” An officer’s “subjective view that the individual under questioning is a suspect, if not disclosed to the individual, does not bear upon the question of whether the individual is in custody for purposes of Miranda.” However, if the officer communicates his views to the suspect, this fact weighs upon the question of custody. “In sum, an officer’s views concerning the nature of an interrogation, or beliefs concerning the potential culpability of the individual being questioned, may be one among many factors that bear upon the assessment of whether that individual was in custody, but only if the officer’s views or beliefs were somehow manifested to the individual under interrogation and would have affected how a reasonable person in that position would perceive his or her freedom to leave.”


511 U.S. 318, 114 S. Ct. 1526 (1994)

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