Miranda Warnings During Standoffs and the Public Safety Exception

 What should have been a normal suppression motion has turned into a holding that has broad implications for defendants during crisis negotiations. The Court in Reuter listed certain factors to analyze in standoff-specific situations that are different from normal Miranda factors. In doing so, the Court nitpicks certain factors to analyze while ignoring others. Moreover, the Court missed an opportunity to apply the public safety exception created in Quarles.

By: Zachary Walker

State v. Reuter, 637 S.W.3d 478 (Mo. E.D. 2021)

I.  INTRODUCTION

     Police encounters can be intimidating for some and a normal conversation for others. When talking to people in a position of authority, our conscience can make us say or do things that we normally would not do.1 The United States Supreme Court recognized this in their landmark case Miranda v. Arizona.2 There, the Court held law enforcement officers are required to read certain rights when a suspect is in custody and subject to an interrogation.3 However, this requirement was too formal and left out certain situations where suspects were still subjected to coercive behavior. The court then recognized situations that are not formal interrogations but still required the reading of Miranda rights.4 Over the years, new factors were lined out to determine if a suspect is in custody, specifically in standoff situations.5 These factors were taken into consideration in State v. Reuter, where the court found a suspect, barricaded in his home surrounded by dozens of officers, was determined not to be in custody.6 Because Mr. Reuter was determined not to be in custody, Miranda warnings did not have to be read – and they were not read.7 State v. Reuter comes down to a situation in which Miranda warnings might not have been required, but for a different reason than the Court ran with.

II. FACTS

     Jeffrey Reuter (“Defendant”) was at his home in Bonne Terre, Missouri, just south of St. Louis, when multiple law enforcement officers arrived to execute an arrest warrant.8 The arrest warrant was in relation to the Defendant’s involvement in tampering and harassing three St. Louis judges.9 When the officers arrived, they announced their presence and asked the Defendant to exit the home.10 Instead of peacefully complying, Defendant stated he would protect himself if the officers attempted to enter.11 Officers then surrounded the home, which developed into a standoff.12 During the hour-long standoff, a detective arrived and performed a crisis negotiation.13 The negotiation between the detective and the Defendant occurred over the telephone.14 Throughout the negotiation, numerous incriminating statements were made by the defendant.15 The detective repeatedly told the defendant to surrender, saying it would be in the best interest of his child and even had the defendant’s mother talk to the defendant on the phone.16

     Defendant soon surrendered, was arrested, and was put into a patrol vehicle.17 At no point in time was Defendant advised of his Miranda rights.18 On the way to the police station the officers began to speak with Defendant about football and dentistry, and eventually thanked Defendant for his peaceful surrender.19 Defendant then asked the officers if they would have made entry into his house at some point and an officer said yes.20 Defendant then stated, “he was glad they did not because he had a firearm, but he took the magazine out of it prior to exiting the residence.”21 Defendant filed for suppression of his statements made to the officers due to a violation of his Miranda rights.22 The trial court agreed and granted the motion to suppress.23

     The state appealed, arguing (1), no custody existed while Defendant was in the residence,24 (2) “neither the questioning through the door nor the telephone negotiation were an interrogation,”25 and (3) the officers conduct during the ride to the police station did not constitute an “interrogation.”26 The court held that no custody existed while Defendant was in residence, thus encompassing the conversation on the phone,27 and that the officer’s conduct during the transfer was not an interrogation.28

III. LEGAL BACKGROUND

     Since the famous criminal procedure case, Miranda v. Arizona,29 Miranda warnings have long been a staple of our criminal justice system and a basic protection that is afforded to suspected criminals. The Court has expanded Miranda jurisprudence first in determining that the Miranda requirement includes interrogations and their functional equivalent in Rhode Island v. Innis,30 and then Miranda’s effect in standoff situations, discussed in Mesa and Quarles.31

1.  Miranda v. Arizona and Rhode Island v. Innis

     Miranda v. Arizona was a consolidation of four cases regarding the same issue: whether “statements obtained from an individual who is subjected to custodial police interrogation” are admissible without a warning of a defendant’s “privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate himself.”32 Essentially, the Supreme Court highlighted the psychological tactics that police employ during searches and seizures,33 and how these tactics, without proper safeguards, could lead to involuntary statements made by the suspect.34 Because of this, the Court recognized that the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires safeguards for an “in-custody interrogation of persons suspected or accused of [a] crime,” because such situations “contain[] inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual’s will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely.”35 Thus, the infamous Miranda warnings were created and have become a foundation of police-suspect interactions.36

     Almost fourteen years later, Rhode Island v. Innis expanded Miranda to include both  interrogations and their “functional equivalent.”37 In Innis, the defendant was arrested in connection with a murder of a taxicab driver.38 After being arrested, numerous officers came to the area and read the defendant his Miranda rights.39 The defendant stated he wanted to speak with a lawyer and questioning ceased until the defendant was put in a patrol car with three officers.40 During the ride, the officers talked amongst themselves about the missing weapon that was used to murder the taxi driver, specifically mentioning a situation where a child at the nearby handicap school would find the defendant’s weapon and harm herself.41 The defendant overheard the conversation and told the officers to turn the patrol car around so that the defendant could show the officers where the gun was located.42

      After a grand jury returned an indictment for the defendant, he moved to suppress the gun and the statements made.43 The motion was denied on the finding that the defendant was read his Miranda rights and understood those rights, and any statement made by the defendant was of his own volition and a waiver of his right to remain silent.44 After being convicted of murder, the defendant appealed and the appellate court overturned the conviction on the ground that the conduct of the officers in the vehicle constituted an interrogation without counsel present, and the defendant had not yet waived his right to counsel.45 The Supreme Court had to determine “the meaning of ‘interrogation.’”46

     The court concluded that Miranda did not only apply to an interrogation, but also its “functional equivalent,”47  which is “any words or actions . . . that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.”48 The Court interpreted what the Miranda court meant by “interrogation,”49 and it noted Miranda was concerned with environments that would “subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner and thereby undermine the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination.”50 Because of this, “interrogation” also includes situations that are not express questioning but would still amount to an interrogation; i.e., a “functional equivalent.”51

2. Questioning Suspects During a Standoff – S. v. Mesa and N.Y. v. Quarles

     Miranda issues surrounding a standoff are rare. One of the most famous cases comes from the Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Mesa.52 In Mesa, the defendant was suspected of shooting his daughter and wife.53 The police located the defendant at a local hotel, where 25 to 30 officers arrived and surrounded the hotel.54 A hostage negotiator was deployed and conversed with the defendant over the phone.55 For over three hours the defendant spoke with the negotiator and made statements about his wife and child, and the events surrounding the shooting.56 The defendant then surrendered, was read his Miranda rights, and was taken into custody.57 The defendant moved to suppress the statement, and the district court granted the motion.58

     The U.S. appealed this motion, and the Third Circuit reversed, with three different opinions.59 Writing the primary opinion, Chief Judge Seitz found that custody cannot exist where an “armed suspect who possibly has hostages barricades himself away from the police,”60 because the defendant was barricaded in his room in a way that “prevented the law enforcement officials from exercising immediate control over his actions.”61 The concurring judge concluded that the defendant “had not been interrogated within the meaning of Miranda because the questions were asked for primarily non-investigative reasons.”62 Lastly, the dissenting judge concluded that the defendant had been in custody and interrogated without the Miranda warnings and therefore the statements were suppressible.63

     Four years later the Supreme Court heard N.Y. v. Quarles.64 There, a woman told nearby police officers that she had just been raped by a man who went into a nearby grocery store and that the man was armed with a gun.65 The officers and the victim drove to the store and spotted the man matching the description of the defendant.66 The defendant ran towards the back of the store as the officers walked inside.67 One officer eventually reached the defendant and ordered him to surrender, which the defendant did.68 The officer then detained the defendant and asked him where his gun was located.69 The defendant nodded his head towards the area of the gun and stated, “the gun is over there.”70 The defendant moved to suppress the statements he made to the officer for lack of a Miranda warning, which the judge granted, and both of New York’s higher courts affirmed.71

     Upon granting certiorari, the Supreme Court found that, although custody existed at the time the statements were made, giving Miranda warnings prior to questioning to ensure the safety of the situation was not necessary.72 The Court reasoned that since the police did not know where the weapon was located at the time of initially apprehending the defendant, there was a “public safety” issue that must be taken care of before any Miranda warnings were required.73 The Court held “the need for answers to questions in a situation posing a threat to the public safety outweighs the need for the prophylactic rule protecting the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination,” and thus carved out a public safety exception to the Miranda requirement.74

IV. INSTANT DECISION

     With a suppression motion at the court’s door, it had to apply the Miranda doctrine in an issue of first impression: whether Miranda was required during a standoff with a defendant barricaded within his home. A unanimous court found that Miranda warnings were not warranted because the “functional equivalent” of an interrogation never existed.75

     The State brought two points on appeal regarding the statements made by the defendant prior to being detained: (1) a Miranda violation did not exist because the defendant was not in custody,76 and (2) a Miranda violation did not exist because the questioning of the defendant was not an “interrogation.”77 First, the Court mentioned the existence of “custody” is determined by the totality of the circumstances.78 Typically, when analyzing whether custody existed at the time of questioning in Miranda cases, the court analyzes a number of factors.79  However, in this case, the Court did not analyze these factors.80 Instead, it found that the following should be analyzed, specifically in standoff situations: whether the suspect “(1) can prevent law enforcement officials from exercising immediate control over his or her actions; (2) can move freely about the place in which they are barricaded; (3) is in the physical presence of an interrogating officer; (4) is able to terminate his or her conversation with police by putting down the phone; and (5) can control the direction of the conversation by discussing anything he or she wants.”81

     Looking at the totality of the circumstances, the Court found that the Defendant was not in custody at the time of questioning.82 The Court pointed to the fact that the custody situation described in Miranda is distinguished from a custody-standoff situation.83 The situation that Miranda is designed to protect is the “isolation of the suspect in a room that is dominated by the law enforcement officials who will interrogate him,”84 which ultimately leads to an environment that coerces the suspect to speak against his will.85 However, in a standoff situation, the suspect can exercise more control and officers cannot immediately physically constrain the barricaded suspect.86 Thus, officers in the standoff situation do not have the same psychological advantages present in the normal custodial situation.87

     Here, the Defendant was barricaded in his home and armed.88 Thus, there was not immediate physical control over the defendant while he was inside of his home.89 Furthermore, the Defendant was able to move freely around his home and refuse to speak to officers, which he did twice during the standoff.90 The Court admitted that, although the outside of his home was police-dominated, the Defendant could not feel the pressure necessary to trigger the Miranda warnings.91 Because the Court found that no custody existed at the time, they did not need to answer whether an interrogation existed.

V. COMMENT

     What should have been a normal suppression motion has turned into a holding that has broad implications for defendants during crisis negotiations. The Court in Reuter listed certain factors to analyze in standoff-specific situations that are different from the normal Miranda factors.92 In doing so, the Court nitpicks certain factors to analyze while ignoring others. Moreover, the Court missed an opportunity to apply the public safety exception created in Quarles.

1. Factor Analysis

     The court listed five different factors to analyze for Miranda issues in standoff situations.93 In analyzing these factors, the Court primarily focused on the ability of the defendant to stop talking to the officers and the lack of immediate physical control by the officers over Defendant.94 However, when we look at the initial reason for Miranda– to remove the psychological factors leading to involuntary statements –95 Defendant’s situation seems to fit that condition. With officers surrounding the home and a crisis ongoing negotiation, psychological pressure on Defendant surely existed. While Defendant may have been able to prevent officers from “immediate” control, control nonetheless existed.96 At any point in time the police could have, and would have, entered Defendant’s residence to detain him. A person in Defendant’s situation would not feel comfortable either “terminat[ing the] conversation with the police by putting the phone down,”97 or controlling the direction of the conversation.98 This is because the presence of multiple officers surrounding the home, with a crisis negotiator talking to him through a phone, is a startling and stressful situation – a situation that would make a suspect feel compelled to make involuntary statements.

     Further, the court’s emphasis on Defendant’s ability to keep the officers outside of the home seems slightly misinterpreted. While the police were not immediately within physical control of Defendant, Defendant only had his home to move about in freely. Thus, Defendant could not have felt free to move away from officers, because if he had left his home he would immediately have been subject to the force of the officers. Psychological pressure on a defendant through the presence of overwhelming officers outside the home has a similar effect – although not completely analogous – of a couple of officers being within immediate physical control of a suspect.

2. Public Safety Exception

     Although the Court found there to be a lack of custody, a better route would have been to admit there was the same or similar psychological pressures as if Defendant was in custody, but the statements would have been allowed due to the public safety exception outlined in Quarles.

     While Miranda warnings are absolutely necessary to help deter psychological pressure and ensure a more equitable playing field, there are instances in which it needs to take a backseat: when the safety of the officers and the public are still in jeopardy. As the Supreme Court realized, Miranda warnings are not necessary in every imaginable situation.99 When the safety of those in the area of the potential custody or interrogation are threatened, requiring Miranda warnings to be made before having to secure the safety of others would be misplaced.

     Just like in Quarles when the suspect had stored a firearm in the immediate area and told the officer where it was prior to Miranda being given,100 the defendant in Reuters posed a threat to the officers surrounding the home.101 As such, it is reasonable for officers to attempt to create a safe situation before giving Miranda warnings. That way, officers have their safety and the safety of those in the general area as their top priority. After a defendant is apprehended, and the scene is secure, Miranda ought to be given.

     One may argue that the public safety exception does not cover this situation as it seems to be more private, rather than a public danger. This is well placed. However, a standoff situation with dozens of officers around a home can certainly cause danger to the public around the area. It is within the realm of possibility, if not sometimes more than possible, that a shootout could occur. This would be of concern to the public as stray bullets could cause personal harm and property damage. As such, this would still be within the confines of the public safety exception.

VI. CONCLUSION

     State v. Reuter is a great example of misplaced reasoning for a good outcome. The factors analyzed point toward the Defendant being in custody, but there was still a need to make the scene safe.102 Instead of applying the public safety exception, the court’s ruling has implications for defendants in narrow standoff situations. Where a suspect decides not to speak to the police, threatens violence, and remains inside a home without being a threat to the public at large, they can lose basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These suspects will be in situations that may be coercive and the suspects will be susceptible to involuntary statements or confessions. Although these situations might not arise often, they are still situations that our Constitution ought to protect. Courts should not ignore the reality of police encounters, specifically standoff situations. They are tense and coercive ­ – the exact situations in which Miranda was born to protect.

FOOTNOTES

[1] See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 467 (1996) (“…the process of in-custody interrogation of persons suspected or accused of a crime contains inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual’s will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely.”).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300–01 (1980).

[5] See U.S. v. Mesa, 638 F.2d 582 (3rd Cir. 1980); see New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984).

[6] State v. Reuter, 637 S.W.3d 478 (Mo. E.D. 2021).

[7] Id. at 481.

[8] Id. at 480.

[9] Id. Defendant delivered manifestos to three circuit court judges. Id. According to the statements made by Defendant during the standoff discussed below, Defendant apparently felt as if the judges were not following the law nor treating Defendant fairly. Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id. The defendant specifically stated, “’judges don’t follow the law,’ and how judges did not treat him fairly.” Id.

[16] Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 480.

[17] Id.

[18] Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 480; See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1996).

[19] Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 480.

[20] Id.

[21] Id. at 480–81.

[22] Id. at 481. The Defendant argued that because a custodial interrogation existed at the time the statements were made, and no Miranda warnings were given, a suppression motion is proper. Id.

[23] Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 481.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id. at 484.

[28] Id. at 485.

[29] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1996).

[30] Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300–01 (1980).

[31]U.S. v. Mesa, 638 F.2d 582 (3rd Cir. 1980).

[32] Miranda, 384 U.S. at 439.

[33] Id. at 449–55.

[34] Id. at 457–59.

[35] Id. at 467. Specifically, the Court held “if a person in custody is to be subjected to interrogation, he must first be informed in clear and unequivocal terms that he has the right to remain silent . . . . More important, such a warning is an absolute prerequisite in overcoming the inherent pressures of the interrogation atmosphere . . . . The warning of the right to remain silent must be accompanied by the explanation that anything said can and will be used against the individual in court . . . . [And the suspect] must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation . . . .”

[36] Gordon L. Rockhill, 23 Am. Jur. Proof of Facts 2d 713 (Oct. 2022).

[37] Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 300–01 (1980).

[38] Id. at 293.

[39] Id. at 294

[40] Id.

[41] Id. at 294–95.

[42] Id. at 295.

[43] Id. at 295–96.

[44] Id. at 296.

[45] Id.

[46] Id. at 297.

[47] Id. at 300–01

[48] Id. at 301.

[49] Id. at 298–301.

[50] Id. at 299 (internal quotations removed). The Miranda court even cited examples of such environments that did not involve express questioning by the police.

[51] Id. at 299–301.

[52] U.S. v. Mesa, 638 F.2d 582 (3rd Cir. 1980).

[53] Id. at 583.

[54] Id.

[55] Id.

[56] Id. at 583–84.

[57] Id. at 583

[58] Id.

[59] See William T. Pizzi, The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination in a Rescue Situation, 76  J. of Crim. L. and Criminology 567, 575 (1985) (stating the three reasonings by both the majority, concurrence, and dissent).

[60] Mesa, 638 F.2d at 589.

[61] Id.

[62] Pizzi, supra note 48, at 575.

[63] Id. Certiorari to the Supreme Court has not yet been sought.

[64] New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984).

[65] Id. at 651–52.

[66] Id. at 652.

[67] Id.

[68] Id.

[69] Id.

[70] Id. (internal quotations removed). The officer also asked the defendant he owned the weaponed, which the defendant stated he did own.

[71] Id. at 652–53.

[72] Id. at 655–56.

[73] Id. at 657.

[74] Id.

[75] State v. Reuter, 637 S.W.3d 478, 485 (Mo. App. E.D. 2021).

[76] Id. at 481.

[77] Id.

[78] Id. at 482.

[79] Id. (The factors are: “(1) whether the suspect was informed at the time of questioning that the questioning was voluntary, that the suspect was free to leave or request the officers to do so, or that the suspect was not under arrest; (2) whether the suspect possessed unrestrained freedom of movement during questioning; (3) whether the suspect initiated contact with authorities or voluntarily acquiesced to official requests to answer questions; (4) whether strong arm tactics or deceptive stratagems were employed during questioning; (5) whether the atmosphere was police dominated; or, (6) whether the suspect was placed under arrest at the termination of questioning.”).

[80] Id. at 483.

[81] Id. at 483 (citing, e.g., State v. Pejsa, 75 Wash.App. 139 (Wash. Ct. App. 1994) (citing U.S. v. Mesa, 628 F.2d 582, 586 (1980)).

[82] Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 484.

[83] Id. at 483.

[84] Id.

[85] Id.

[86] Id.

[87] Id.

[88] Id.

[89] Id.

[90] Id.

[91] Id. at 484.

[92] See infra Part IV.

[93] Id.

[94] Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 483.

[95] See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 467 (1996) .

[96] See Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 485. 

[97] Id. at 483.

[98] Id.

[99] See New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984).

[100] Id. at 652.

[101] Reuter, 637 S.W.3d at 480. Defendant stated he would protect himself if officers came through the door. Id.

[102] See infra Part V.A.