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Criminal Practice – Confession – No Miranda Warnings – Not ‘in Custody’

When a police officer found defendant trespassing in a public park after hours, defendant was not free to leave; however, his interrogation by the officer was not so coercive as to warrant Miranda warnings. The trial court correctly declined to suppress defendant’s confession that he owned a gun found in a park trash can.

We affirm the district court’s denial of defendant’s motion to suppress his confession.

An individual is in custody and entitled to Miranda warnings when, under the totality of the circumstances, ‘a suspect’s freedom of action is curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest. Therefore, a person might not be free to leave but might also not be in custody under Miranda. For example, a person is not free to leave during a Terry frisk or a traffic stop, but that person is not in custody for purposes of Miranda.

After Officer David Rochelle found defendant (a convicted felon) and his companion trespassing in the park after it was closed, defendant was not free to leave. However, he was not in custody for Miranda purposes.

Rochelle asked only a handful of questions, targeted at determining ownership of the weapon that another officer had just discovered. These questions were offered in a polite tone of voice. Rochelle never got so far as to draw his firearm, physically restrain defendant before or during the questioning, or touch defendant beyond a protective frisk.

All of this happened over a short time in a public area with defendant’s companion at his side. Taking all this together, we conclude that this was not a custodial interrogation.

Defendant points out that Rochelle asked defendant about the firearm at least three times, the questioning continued in the face of express denials, and Rochelle advised defendant that honesty would go a long way to help defendant. Neither the number of questions nor defendant’s initial denials assist defendant. And an interrogation is not more coercive simply because the officer encourages the suspect’s cooperation, even if the officer promises to help the suspect if they admit criminality.

Furthermore, although the park was dark, it was still a public area. And defendant was not isolated or separated from his companion. So the setting of defendant’s interrogation does not change the overall outcome of our inquiry.

It is true that defendant’s interaction with the police began when Rochelle confronted him for trespassing, an arrestable offense. Perhaps being detained for an arrestable offense might in some circumstances lead a reasonable person in the suspect’s position to believe he is in custody. But the mere fact that an investigation involves a theoretically arrestable offense does not make that police interaction custodial.

Whatever Rochelle’s eventual plans for defendant, he never expressed to defendant that he intended to arrest him. The fact that an individual is the focus of an investigation is not significant to the custody inquiry. So even when added to the broader totality analysis, the fact that defendant could technically have been arrested for trespass before or during the interrogation does not make his questioning custodial.

We conclude that defendant was not in custody. Since he was not in custody for his interrogation at the park, no Miranda warnings were required, so the district court correctly concluded that his responses to Rochelle’s questions should not be suppressed.


United States v. Leggette (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-003-23, 13 pp.) (Julius Richardson, J.) No. 21-4175. Appealed from USDC at Greensboro, N.C. (Thomas Schroeder, C.J.) Ames Colby Chamberlin and Louis Allen for appellant; Margaret McCall Reece and Sandra Hairston for appellee. 4th Cir.

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