A defendant, upon the request of a police officer, presented himself at police headquarters. Once there, during a 2-hour tape-recorded session, he was questioned by officers about the murder of his former wife. During the questioning, the officers repeatedly told the accused that he was free to leave, but also told him that they knew he had killed the victim. The accused was not informed of his Miranda rights. Eventually, he told the officers that he had committed the crime. Following the interview, the defendant was allowed to leave the police headquarters. He was arrested 2-hours later and charged with first-degree murder. The state court found that the defendant was not in custody at the time of the statements.
Whether the state court’s determination of the custody issue has a presumption of correctness?
No. The determination of whether a person is in custody is a mixed question of fact and law.
Trial courts are given great deference in issues of credibility. However, two discrete inquiries are essential to the determination whether there was “a ‘formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement’ of the degree associated with a formal arrest.” California v. Beheler. The first inquiry, what circumstances surrounded the interrogation, is distinctly factual. The second inquiry, would a reasonable person have felt at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave, calls for application of the law. In these inquiries, the trial court’s superior capacity to resolve credibility issues is not the foremost factor.
516 U.S. 99, 116 S. Ct. 457 (1995)