Do you always get a Miranda warning before questioning? Maybe not.

Posted By Tim Powers || 5-Sep-2012

Just because you’re locked up on one charge doesn’t mean you get Miranda warnings.

Many people point out to me that the police questioned them without first giving Miranda warnings.

First, some basic law on when Miranda warnings are needed. For the Miranda warnings to be required, there has to be a combination of custody (person under arrest) plus interrogation. All interrogation that happens while the person is under arrest must be preceded by Miranda warnings. If the person is not under arrest and is interrogated, that does not require Miranda warnings. If the person is under arrest, but is not interrogated (interrogation means questioning someone with the purpose of getting the person to say incriminating things), then Miranda warnings are not required.

Now on to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision about whether interrogations of incarcerated people require Miranda warnings.

In Howes v. Fields, the Court decided that questioning a person who is (1) already incarcerated, (2) in isolation, (3) about events in the free world does not automatically qualify as “custodial” interrogation so that Miranda warnings must be given before any statements will be admissible.

Everything about the interrogation influences whether the person being questioned is in “custody.” These things matter: the inmate’s perspective that his freedom of movement has been restricted, the inmate’s perspective is colored by the language used to summon the inmate to the room in which he is questioned, and the manner in which is in interview is conducted.

The Fields decision is a perfect example of what you get when Supreme Court justices who have led fairly sheltered lives, writing from an ivory tower, make decisions about what it is like for someone to be an inmate in a secure facility.

The fact of the matter is that inmates in secure facilities are continually ordered to do things. They cannot leave their cell, take a shower, have breakfast, have lunch, or have dinner unless someone in authority at the secure facility tells them they can do so. They get little to no input into what they eat, how they dress, or what part of the secure facility they will reside in. Inmates have basically no control over their own lives.

When law enforcement officers come into a secure facility and begin to question inmates about things that happened outside that facility, even if the inmate is told “you are free to leave this interview” it is laughable to think that the inmate truly thinks he is free to do anything. He does what the people in authority tell him he can do. He knows that the alternative is to suffer consequences.

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