Much to the defendant’s chagrin but in a relatively straightforward application of the law, the state Court of Appeals held recently in North Carolina v. Rico Barnes that being handcuffed on your cousin’s porch while probation agents search the home does not mean you are officially in custody.
Barnes was visiting his cousin, Territon Lewis, at Lewis’ Gaston County home when Lewis’ parole officer showed up, with a police escort, to search the residence, according to the court’s opinion. The officer recognized Barnes as a probationer and told him that based on that, he’d won himself a free, warrantless search also.
But wait, there’s more.
Alongside Lewis, Barnes was cuffed — “for officer safety” — and sat in a chair on the porch, where the pair remained for close to an hour.
The search turned up a leather jacket, which Barnes reportedly said was his when the PO asked to whom it belonged.
But when he learned that the PO found crack in the jacket pocket, Barnes asserted the SODDI defense, claiming he borrowed the jacket from someone else.
After being charged with drug possession with intent to sell, Barnes moved to suppress his statements to the PO, who did not Mirandize him.
But the trial court found — and the appeals court affirmed — that he was not “in custody” for purposes of Miranda.
While the court noted that the constitutions of both the United States and North Carolina protect citizens from “compulsory self-incrimination” while in custody, this scenario didn’t quite fit the bill.
While wearing handcuffs supports “an objective showing” that one is in custody, Judge Chris Dillon noted, probationers know that they are subject to random searches and Barnes would “objectively understand” why he was being restrained and that it was temporary.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that a reasonable person in Defendant’s situation, though in handcuffs, would not believe his restraint rose to a level of restraint associated with formal arrest,” Dillon wrote.
Dillon added that this decision does not mean that a person on probation is never entitled to Miranda’s protections, which likely serves as little consolation to Barnes.
According to public safety department records, Barnes did manage to skirt jail time, receiving an extra two years of supervision.
But in this wonderful example of doing the wrong thing, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, it is clear that Rico is not always so suave.