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Questioning at the Police Station

Officers call repeatedly with questioning suspects who come to the police station. Officers frequently ask is Miranda required when a suspect is at the police department? The answer is short, Miranda is required when there is custody AND interrogation. Let’s look at some factors that allow officers to NOT provide Miranda warnings when a suspect is being questioned at the police department.


1. If the suspect voluntarily appears at police department for an interview. It doesn’t matter how he got there provided it was a voluntary agreement to appear. For instance, in the seminal case California v. Beheler 463 U.S. 1121, Beheler voluntarily agreed to come to the police officers to the station. The key is the voluntary nature of the agreement. The cases in this area have found that when the suspect is given the choice of going with the officers or finding his own way to the station, the voluntariness of the appearance is fairly clear.

2. Tell the suspect he is free to leave. The cases are clear that when the suspect is clearly told he is free to leave there is no custody. Leaving the door open and sitting away from the door is also a factor the courts consider in finding there is no custody. Cases have also found the suspect is free to leave even after being told he is the subject of the investigation and that he would probably be arrested at some point. The length of the interview, how contentious, and the number of officers in the room are also factors the court considers in whether the suspect is in custody.

3. Would a reasonable and innocent person believe they were free to leave throughout the interview. Be careful during the interview to remind the suspect if necessary that he is free to go. This is especially important if the interview turns especially contentious and accusatory.
Courts have found that repeating the fact that the person is free to go is important when it becomes clear in the questioning that the officers believe the suspect is guilty, that they do not believe his statements and even challenge him, the repeated admonition can keep the interview noncustodial.

4. But to be clear, an interview does not become custodial merely because the officers tell the suspect they believe he is guilty. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that telling someone that he is the prime suspect or unfriendly questioning does not necessarily make an interview custodial because some suspects are still free to go until the police decide to make an arrest.

5. Telling the suspect he will not be arrested at the end of the interview indicates that it is a noncustodial interview. If you tell the suspect that he will not be arrested, DO NOT ARREST at the end of the interview.

To be safe, if you tell the suspect he is free to leave, let him leave. If you start an adversarial interview or interrogation, remind the suspect he is free to leave, or provide the Miranda warnings. All of the above are factors the court will take into consideration when determining whether the suspect is or is not, in custody. Good luck, be safe.


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