For many people, the time between when they’re first stopped by law enforcement and their arrival at a police station or jail is a blur. It’s easy to lose track, if you even knew in the first place, of what legal rights you have at any given moment.
The question of when someone’s own statements can and can’t be used against them was the subject of a case that the Rhode Island Supreme Court recently ruled on. The case involved a Westerly man who was arrested for DUI in 2018 after his vehicle swerved off the road and struck a pole.
The judge presiding over the man’s trial determined that prosecutors couldn’t use statements against him that he made to police after he was technically in custody because he hadn’t been given his Miranda rights. The initial trial was about to get underway in early 2020 when the state appealed the court’s ruling that his statements were inadmissible.
When was the defendant in custody?
The “Miranda warning” must be given to someone once they are in custody. That’s typically once they’re in handcuffs. However, it essentially means once they are no longer free to just leave the scene of police questioning.
The Supreme Court decision noted that “the trial justice correctly determined that the defendant was in custody once the defendant was relocated and the officer, armed with all of the indicia of the defendant’s intoxication, informed the defendant of his belief that the defendant was being untruthful about consuming alcohol — followed by further interrogation to that effect.”
The man was found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of about double the legal limit. He’s scheduled to be back in court for the DUI charge later this summer.
When police detain and arrest people, regardless of the circumstances, they are required to follow the law. If they don’t do that, defendants have a right to dispute the use of any evidence against them that wasn’t lawfully obtained. That’s just one reason why it’s crucial to have legal guidance.