Florida Court Discusses What Constitutes Custodial Interrogation

It is well-known that a person cannot be forced to make incriminating statements and that people who are taken into police custody must be advised of their Miranda rights before they are interrogated. It is not always clear, however, when a person is considered to be in the custody of the police or when the need for Miranda warnings arises due to interrogation, as discussed in a recent Florida sex crime case in which the State appealed the trial court’s order granting a defendant’s motion to suppress incriminating statements. If you are a resident of Tampa and were recently charged with a sex crime, it is advisable to contact a dedicated Tampa sex crime defense attorney regarding your options for protecting your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous sex crimes. Prior to trial, he filed a motion to suppress statements he made to detectives during an interview and written statements after the interview that contained an apology and a suicide note. During the interview, the defendant admitted to masturbating in front of the minor victim. In his motion, the defendant alleged that while the beginning of the interview may not have constituted a custodial interrogation, the latter portion of the interview was custodial in nature and that he was not given the required Miranda warnings. Further, the defendant argued that his written statements were unreliable. The trial court ruled that the defendant was interrogated and that the interrogation became custodial, and therefore Miranda warnings should have been administered. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. The State subsequently appealed.

What Constitutes Custodial Interrogation

Under Florida law, interrogation happens when a state agent engages in actions or asks a person questions that a reasonable individual would believe are intended to elicit an incriminating response. Miranda warnings are required when an interrogation becomes custodial. In other words, they must be administered when a person who is both under interrogation and in custody is being questioned. If Miranda warnings are not administered, statements made during a custodial interrogation will be precluded at trial.

Whether a person is in custody is fact-dependent, and involves an assessment of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation and whether a reasonable person would have felt that he or she could not leave the interrogation under those circumstances. In determining how a reasonable person would assess a situation, a court will consider how a person was summoned for the interrogation, the manner, place, and purpose of the interrogation, and whether the suspect is presented with evidence of his or her guilt. The court will also consider whether the suspect was informed that he or she had the right to leave. In the subject case, the appellate court found that while the defendant was interrogated, the interrogation was not custodial, as it occurred on the defendant’s porch, the questions were background related, and it was clear the defendant was free to leave. Thus, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Confer with a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are accused of committing a sex crime in Tampa, it is advisable to confer with an attorney to discuss what defenses you may be able to set forth. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a skilled Tampa sex crime defense attorney with the resources and experience needed to provide you with a strong chance of a favorable result. You can contact Mr. Hanlon through the form online or at 813-228-7095 to set up a confidential conference.