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Miranda Custody – Patrol Car

REFRESHER ALERT: A Miranda violation can only occur when two things are present, 1. Custody 2. Interrogation.

Courts are constantly struggling with the issue of custody. Under what circumstances is a suspect in custody, not in custody, kinda maybe in custody. Each fact pattern is unique but keeping in mind the general rules will allow you to avoid mistakes that can lead to the suppression of statements and the losing of cases.

In People v. Moore (2011) 51 Cal.4th 386, the California Supreme Court recently took up the issue of custody for Miranda purposes in an interesting case.


Moore moved to suppress his statements to Monterey County Sheriff’s Deputies that he made while in a patrol car and in an interview room on the basis that he was in custody and should have been given his Miranda warnings.


Nicole Carnahan was an 11 year-old girl who lived with her mom Rebecca in Monterey. On the day of her death, Nicole left for school around 7 a.m. taking the bus. Nicole’s habit was to take the bus home after school, feed the animals, lock the front door and work on her homework. Rebecca left for work about an hour later.

Just before leaving for work, Rebecca went out in the backyard to feed the animals. There were no holes in her fence. That afternoon a neighbor noticed three boards were missing. When Rebecca returned from work at around 5:00 p.m. Nicole didn’t come out to greet her or answer the front door. Rebecca went around back and found the backdoor unlocked and the house had been ransacked. Rebecca did not see Nicole.

Less than a minute later Rebecca saw the defendant, her next door neighbor Moore who lived with his mother, running away from her toward the back fence where there was a hole. Rebecca yelled after him what was he doing and where was Nicole and the defendant answered “I didn’t do it.”


Rebecca called the sheriff’s office. A deputy arrived on scene and went to Moore’s trailer where he tried to speak to him. The trailer was cold, dark and had no electricity so the officer asked whether Moore would talk to him in his patrol car. Moore said he would and got into the back seat. Moore was not handcuffed or searched before getting in the car. The deputy shut the rear-locking door. The deputy would testify later that Moore had complained of the cold.

During a 15-minute interview defendant gave a confusing story that conflicted with what he had told Rebecca. At the end, the deputy asked whether Moore would be willing to wait in the car while he talked to someone else. Moore said yes. The deputy opened the back door so that Moore could smoke a cigarette.

After the interview while still seated in the car Rebecca began screaming. Defendant asked “did they find her?”

They had. She had been brutalized and stuffed between her bed and her bedroom wall. The crime scene was bloody. Nicole’s blood, along with items from her home, were found in defendant’s house.


A detective went back to Moore at the patrol car. He was sitting in the back seat with the door open. The detective asked whether Moore would volunteer to come down to the station to give a statement. Moore asked if he could go the next day. He was told no, but that he would be given a ride home after the interview. Moore said “okay” and “very good.”

Moore was driven down in the same car he had been in before. He was not handcuffed nor was he searched before the ride. Moore asked why Rebecca was screaming. During the ride back Moore asked again whether he was going to be driven back home and was assured repeatedly that he was.


At the station, Moore was lead into an interview room. A doorstop of some type was placed in the door jamb so the door didn’t shut. The detective told Moore he wasn’t under arrest, that he was free to go and was there to give a statement because he was the last to see Nicole alive.

Moore told a different story than he had given to Rebecca. He was then asked whether he burglarized the house, whether he had a weapon with him and then was told he must have had a knife he normally carried with him when he went inside. Moore refused to consent to search his residence. The interview turned contentious and accusatory.

The detectives pressed Moore and he soon asked to go home. He also questioned whether he was going to be charged. The detectives ultimately decided to arrest Moore, at which point they gave him his Miranda warnings which Moore did not waive.


At trial, both the statement from the patrol car and from the department, were entered into evidence. Moore was found guilty and sentenced to death.


Moore argued that he was in custody from the time he was seated in the patrol car until the time he was informed of his Miranda rights at the station. He argued that all of his statements should have been suppressed.

The court held that a suspect is in custody if he had been arrested or if he reasonably believed that his freedom was limited like an arrest. The test is an objective one. The court found that Moore was not in custody at the time of the patrol car. The deputy didn’t want to talk to him in the trailer, that was cold and dark and explained that to Moore. Moore was also left by himself in the patrol car with the door open.

At the station, the court held it was not custodial until Moore wanted to be driven home and he was told no. Moore was given a Beheler warning, the door was ajar, and was not handcuffed or restrained. Any statement after Moore’s request to leave should have been suppressed. In this case it really didn’t matter because his statements after that point were of no importance.

The key to this case, was that the deputy left the patrol car door open, Moore was told he was free to leave, and the door to the station interview room was left open. Had those facts been different, or had Moore been handcuffed, this case probably would have turned out differently.

Chuck Gillingham is a veteran prosecutor. He is also an instructor for the California District Attorneys’ Association and for Santa Clara University School of Law. Please consult with your own legal counsel for precise guidance before applying any of the techniques or suggestions in this article


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