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Departments : Point of Law

Non-Custodial Stationhouse Interrogations

How to talk to suspects without Mirandizing.

January 01, 2009  |  by Devallis Rutledge - Also by this author

As the Supreme Court has acknowledged, "Miranda warnings may inhibit persons from giving information." (Oregon v. Elstad) Every law enforcement officer has had the experience of losing an opportunity to obtain a possible confession because a suspect reacted to a Miranda warning by invoking his rights.

FBI statistics show that the national clearance rate for violent crimes plunged 28 percent after the Miranda decision, and it has never recovered. These facts mean that officers are not well-advised to give unnecessary Miranda warnings, risking the needless loss of a potential confession.

Because warnings are only required prior to custodial interrogation, one way to minimize the adverse impact of Miranda on investigations is to try to conduct interrogations whenever possible in non-custodial settings (such as at the suspect's home or on the street, without arrest-like restraints). A series of five Supreme Court rulings establishes that it is also possible to interrogate an un-arrested suspect at the police station without warnings, if the situation is handled properly.

Oregon v. Mathiason

Carl Ray Mathiason burglarized a residence. Some 25 days after the crime, the state patrol telephoned Mathiason and asked him to come to the patrol office to talk. Mathiason agreed and came to the station, where he was interrogated for an hour and a half. He was told that he was not under arrest, and no Miranda warnings were given. Mathiason made incriminating statements, after which he was allowed to leave. He was subsequently arrested and convicted. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the conviction, ruling that Miranda warnings should have been given. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed this ruling and held that Mathiason had not been in custody during his voluntary stationhouse interview. The court explained its rationale as follows:

"Police officers are not required to give Miranda warnings to everyone whom they question. Nor is the requirement of warnings to be imposed simply because the questioning takes place in the stationhouse, or because the questioned person is one whom the police suspect. Miranda warnings are required only where there has been such a restriction on a person's freedom as to render him 'in custody.'" (Oregon v. Mathiason)

California v. Beheler

Jerry Lain Beheler helped his step-brother kill a woman over a drug deal. Later that evening, Beheler agreed to accompany police to the station for questioning about the crime. Officers told Beheler he was not under arrest and questioned him for about 30 minutes, without Miranda warnings. He made incriminating statements and was then allowed to go home. Five days later, he was arrested.

The California Court of Appeal reversed Beheler's murder conviction, holding that he was in custody during the stationhouse interrogation and should have been Mirandized. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Noting that the facts in Beheler were "remarkably similar" to those in Mathiason, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate decision and reinstated Beheler's conviction. The court said that no reasonable person in Beheler's position would have felt himself to be under arrest when he had been expressly advised that he was not, and when he came and went voluntarily without police restraints on his freedom.

As a result of the rulings in Mathiason and Beheler, it became a standard police practice in cases where the suspect was not a flight or safety risk to try to get the suspect to come to the station to be interviewed voluntarily, without arrest. Instead of a Miranda warning, the suspect would be given a "Beheler admonition," such as the following: "You're not under arrest. You're free to leave anytime you want. OK?" As long as the suspect was not subjected to any physical restraint or detained in the station, no Miranda warnings would be given, and statements would often result.

Some lower courts continued to resist the holdings in Mathiason and Beheler, and had to be corrected by the Supreme Court.

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