USA v. Coulter
Opinion Date: July 18, 2022
Judge: Edith H. Jones
Areas of Law: Criminal Law
An officer performed a traffic stop on Defendant in the middle of the night. Having been given reason to suspect that Defendant who revealed an aggravated robbery conviction, had a gun, the officer handcuffed him and asked where it was. Defendant answered, and the officer’s partner arrived later to find a .40 caliber pistol and .37 ounces of marijuana in Defendant’s backpack between the front seats of the van he drove. Before Defendant divulged that information, the officer did not provide Miranda warnings.
A grand jury indicted Defendant for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant then moved to “suppress all statements [he made] in response to the officer’s questioning once he was in handcuffs.” The district court granted the suppression motion. The government filed an interlocutory appeal from the district court’s judgment and the trial has been continued pending resolution of the appeal.
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The court explained that the admissibility of Defendant’s unwarned statements, therefore, depends on whether he was “in custody” as contemplated by Miranda at the time he offered them.
Here, based on the totality of the circumstances a reasonable person in Defendant’s position would not have equated the restraint on his freedom of movement with formal arrest. But even if Defendant could have reasonably thought that he was in custody for Miranda purposes after being handcuffed, the environment in which the officer questioned him was not tantamount to a station house interrogation as contemplated by Miranda.
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