This is a very common question. The question is often posed as:
Like many questions about legal concepts, the answer is “it depends.” The question depends on the facts and circumstances of your case and what occurred prior to your arrest. To complicate matters further, there is a split in Ohio courts on whether or not law enforcement can require you to sit in their cruiser and answer questions about how much you had to drink without first reading you your Miranda rights.
What are Miranda Rights?
Everyone has seen Law & Order or other police dramas. Most people can recite the Miranda warnings because they have heard them so often on TV. However, TV can be misleading as to when Miranda warnings must be given. TV would have you believe that Miranda warnings are required prior to any police questioning. This, unfortunately, is not the case.
The famous United States Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona established that before law enforcement may begin a “custodial interrogation,” the accused must be told of his or her right against self-incrimination and right to counsel.
What is a “Custodial Interrogation”?
Miranda defines “custodial interrogation” as “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.”
The police conducting a traffic stop is not a custodial interrogation. The person is not “in custody” for the purposes of Miranda warnings. However, if during the traffic stop a person is “subjected to treatment that renders him in custody for practical purposes,” then he must be informed of his Miranda rights.
Thus, the question turns on whether or not the person is “in custody.” The standard is whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave under the totality of the circumstances? If a reasonable person would not feel as if they could walk away, then they are in custody and should be read their rights before any questions are asked.
What Happens if Law Enforcement Does Not Read the Miranda Warnings Prior to Custodial Interrogation?
If the police do not inform a suspect of his or her Miranda rights before a custodial interrogation, anything that is said by the accused is not admissible in court.
Police Questions You in their Cruiser. Miranda Rights?
During the winter in Ohio, it is not uncommon for an officer, after smelling alcohol emanating from a driver, to ask that the person step out of their vehicle and sit in the officer’s cruiser while he asks questions. The questions often revolve around whether the person has been drinking. Courts in Ohio are currently split on the question of whether this constitutes a custodial interrogation. Here are several cases that hold that law enforcement can question suspects in their cruisers without first reading the accused their Miranda rights:
- State v. Mullins – no custodial interrogation when the defendant is questioned about his alcohol consumption in the passenger seat of the officer’s cruiser.
- State v. Coleman – no Miranda violation where the defendant was questioned about his alcohol consumption in the officer’s cruiser because other custodial interrogation factors were not present.
- State v. Leonard – Miranda warnings are not required where law enforcement removes a defendant from his vehicle and questions him about his alcohol consumption inside the officer’s cruiser.
However, there is one bright spot in Ohio. Ohio’s 8th District recently disagreed with the cases above and held the opposite: Law enforcement must read Miranda warnings before asking questions of a person in the passenger seat of their cruisers during a traffic stop.
Law Enforcement Asks Questions of Driver in Police Cruiser After Stop for Marked Lanes Violation
The case mentioned above is Cleveland v. Oles. This case began after an officer observed a marked lanes violation. The officer pulled over the driver and smelled alcohol emanating from the defendant’s vehicle. The officer also felt that the driver’s action were slow when he asked the driver to produce his license, registration and proof of insurance.
Based on these observations, the officer asked the driver to step out of his vehicle and sit in the front seat of the officer’s cruiser. The officer later admitted that he did this to see if the smell of alcohol followed the driver, which it did, and that the driver was not free to leave.
The officer asked the driver how much he had to drink and the driver admitted to consuming several drinks. The officer then asked the driver to perform three field sobriety tests – Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn and One Leg Stand. The driver failed these tests and was placed under arrest for DUI / OVI. The officer did not inform the driver of his Miranda rights prior to arresting him.
Driver’s Statements Ruled Inadmissible
The 8th District in Oles was presented the question of whether the driver’s Miranda rights were violated when the officer questioned the driver in his cruiser about drinking alcohol without informing him of his Miranda rights. The court in Oles held that no reasonable person, removed from his or her vehicle and questioned about their alcohol consumption in a police officer’s cruiser, would feel free to leave. Furthermore, the officer admitted that he asked the driver to perform field sobriety tests on after the driver admitted to consuming alcohol while in the officer’s cruiser. Based on that admission, the field sobriety tests were also suppressed.
Thankfully, the Ohio Supreme court will be hearing this issue soon and will hopefully render a decision similar to that in Oles.
DUI / OVI Attorney – Columbus and Delaware, Ohio
If you have been charged with DUI / OVI in Columbus or Delaware, Ohio, contact Johnson Legal, LLC and speak with an experienced DUI / OVI attorney. Attorney David Johnson of Johnson Legal, LLC will discuss your case and assist you in fighting the charges. Call (614) 987-0192 or send an email to schedule a consultation regarding your DUI / OVI.
Johnson Legal, LLC serves the following cities in the central Ohio area for DUI / OVI Defense:
Westerville, Worthington, Columbus, Polaris, Reynoldsburg, Grandview Heights, Shawnee Hills, Bexley, Pickerington, Gahanna, Sunbury, Powell, Upper Arlington, New Albany, Dublin, Hilliard, Lewis Center, Galena, Clintonville, Huber Ridge, Blacklick, Grove City, Delaware, Marysville, Groveport, Newark, Canal Winchester, Obetz, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Pataskala, Granville, Whitehall, Franklin County, Morrow County, Licking County, Union County and Delaware County