Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984)

An individual is in custody, for purposes of Miranda v. Arizona, when a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have believed himself in custody. In Berkemer v. McCarty, the Supreme Court held that during a routine traffic stop a motorist is not in custody for purposes of Miranda. In Berkemer, a police officer stopped a motorist he observed swerving between lanes on a highway. The officer asked the motorist if he was intoxicated, and the motorist responded that he had consumed two beers and had smoked some marijuana. The police officer then administered a field sobriety test, and when the motorist failed the test the officer arrested him. At the police station, the officer again asked the motorist if he had consumed any alcohol or drugs and the motorist again answered in the affirmative. The officer never administered the Miranda warnings to the motorist. The trial court admitted both of the motorist’s admissions of consuming alcohol and drugs.

As a consequence of the Supreme Court’s holding in Berkemer, police officers do not need to administer the Miranda warnings during routine traffic stops before asking motorists questions. Thus, although the officer failed to provide the warnings, the Court nevertheless held that the trial court properly admitted the incriminating statements the motorist made because the interrogation was not custodial. Routine traffic stops, which are ordinarily brief and occur in the public view, do not create the police-dominated, coercive environment critical to triggering of the Miranda protections.

CANDICE R. VOTICKY

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) 

See also Arrest; Coerced Confessions/Police Interrogations; Miranda Warning; Seizures; Stop and Frisk

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