When is Custody Custody in a Custodial Setting?

by Charles Gillingham

This question is critical when you want to question a suspect who is in custody. This question came up recently when an officer called the author.  The officer wanted to talk through strategies and pitfalls when one desires to question an in custody suspect.


Remember Shatzer v. Maryland

The quickest easiest takeaway from that case was the requirement the US Supreme Court made up about when you can reinitiate questioning when a suspect invokes the right to remain silent.  The Court said you must wait 14 days. Another, significant legal issue was addressed in Shatzer; What is custody in a custodial setting for Miranda purposes? 


Shatzer was serving time on a conviction in prison his sentence when police tried to question him about another molest case. Shatzer invoked his right to an attorney when Mirandized.  Shatzer was released from the room in which he was being questioned and the case was not pursued.

An officer went back approximately three years later and took Shatzer to an interview room, Mirandized Shatzer who waived his rights and confessed. Shatzer was convicted and on appeal his attorneys argued that Shatzer invoked and was never released from custody so his confession should be suppressed.

In addition to the 14 day rule, the court made a distinction between Miranda custody and being in prison.  Once the suspect is released from Miranda custody and sent back to his normal situation the 14 days begins.

It would seem as though it was clear that just being in custody didn't mean one was in custody for Miranda purposes. 


The court in Howes v. Fields made clear that that is the case.  Fields was in prison.  Investigators brought him to an interview room and told him he was free to leave at any time. He was not handcuffed and provided food and water during the interview. Fields confessed.  The U.S. Supreme Court reversed lower court decisions that held Fields was in custody based upon his prison status and should have been Mirandized.  The U.S. Supreme Court again said that taking an inmate from his normal surrounding to an interview room might trigger the need for Miranda warnings.  But here, Fields was given the Beheler admonishment, not restrained and provided food and water. The U.S. Supreme Court held that that situation was not custodial for Miranda purposes. 

As advised earlier, if you are going into a custodial setting and remove a suspect from his normal surroundings and take him to in interview room the rules are substantially the same as dealing with a suspect who is not in prison.  A Beheler admonishment, no restraint, etc are great tactics to get what you need in your investigation...without Miranda warnings.