Courts frequently are called upon in criminal cases to decide at what point a person is in custody or under arrest so that he is required to be read his “Miranda” rights and told of the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning.
Sometimes that line is quite blurry, as illustrated by a case last month from Maryland’s highest Court called Terrance Brown v. State of Maryland.
The majority opinion in this 5- 2 decision indicates that Brown called 911 indicating he had been injured, and when State Police found him they took him to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds. Several hours later, police came to the hospital and took Brown to the police station, after assuring him he was not under arrest and they saw him as the victim.
They told him they wanted to question him about the incident, but that they would accommodate him if he wanted to leave.
After six minutes of questioning in which Brown allegedly made statements placing himself at the scene of a fatal shooting, they advised him of his Miranda rights.
Brown was charged with first degree murder.
His attorney moved to suppress use of his statements, and the trial judge agreed that he was really under arrest and should have been read his rights before being questioned.
The intermediate appellate Court disagreed, but the majority of the Court of Appeals held that the statements should not have been allowed into evidence.
The test the Court followed was to look at the totality of the circumstances, to decide whether a reasonable person would have concluded they were free to leave or were really under arrest.
The majority found that a person in hospital garments who was suffering from gunshot wounds, had no transportation, and was being questioned in a police station would not feel free to end the interrogation and leave, and that the restraint on his freedom was comparable to being under arrest.
The dissent argued that the conduct of the police, including repeatedly telling Brown he was a victim, was not under arrest, and was free to leave, would instead lead a reasonable individual to the conclusion he was not under arrest and could decide not to answer questions and leave.
This illustrates how the Courts struggle at times to determine when Miranda warnings must be given.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.