The United States Supreme Court decided Howes v. Fields in February 2012. The issue in that case was whether a prisoner is in custody for purposes of Miranda Rights when they are interrogated about a case for which they are not incarcerated. Law enforcement is required to provide a person who is in custody and being interrogation with their Miranda Rights. But what is custody for purposes of Miranda?
In Fields the Defendant was serving a sentence when he was removed from his cell and escorted to a conference room. Two armed sheriff deputies questioned him about allegations that he engaged in unlawful sexual conduct. This sexual conduct was alleged to have occurred before Fields' incarceration. The sheriff’s deputies told Fields that he was free to leave and return to his cell at the beginning of the interrogation. Fields was not restrained or handcuffed during the interview. The door to the conference room was sometimes open and sometimes shut. Fields was then interrogated for between five and seven hours.
The Court in defining custody ruled “custody is a term of art that specifies circumstances that are thought generally to present a serious danger of coercion. In determining whether a person is in custody in this sense, the initial step is to ascertain whether, in light of the objective circumstances of the interrogation, a reasonable person would have felt he or she was not a liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.” The Court then continued by stating “not all restraints on freedom of movement amount to custody for purposes of Miranda. We have declined to accord talismanic power to the freedom-of-movement inquiry and have instead asked the additional question whether the relevant environment presents that same inherently coercive pressures as the type of station house questioning at issue in Miranda.” The Court then held that since Fields was told that he was free to leave and return to his cell he was not in custody for purposes of Miranda.
I am at a loss as to how an interrogation conducted in a prison by armed deputies is not inherently coercive requiring the prisoner to be advised of their Miranda Rights. However, merely saying you can leave according the Supreme Court dissipates the coercive nature of a prison setting.
I will remind you that when the police are questioning you as the subject of the interrogation they are not trying to assist you. They are trying to build a case to support the prosecution of you. Regardless of whether you are given your Miranda Rights or not you should clearly and loudly state that you do not want to talk and that you want an attorney.