Miranda and DUI Checkpoints

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A quick look at the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in State of Indiana v. David Brown on whether Miranda warnings apply to DUI checkpoints.

On March 2, 2017, the Indiana Supreme Court determined, as a matter other f first impression, that Miranda warnings are not required when a driver was detained at a sobriety checkpoint.

This case stemmed from a 2013 incident where the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department established a checkpoint to apprehend and deter intoxicated drivers.  David Brown was riding his motorcycle and happened to enter the checkpoint.  After he entered the checkpoint, he came into contact with an officer who observed that Brown:  had red, watery eyes; that he struggled to get his license out; that he had slurred speech; and that he smelled like alcohol.  The officer then asked Brown if he had been drinking to which Brown admitted that he had.  After further investigation, Brown was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated as well as operating a vehicle with a certain blood alcohol concentration.

The case proceeded to trial during which the officer testified to Brown’s admission that he had been drinking.  Upon questioning by the defense attorney, the officer said that he had not Mirandized Brown prior to asking him if he had been drinking.  Further, the officer also acknowledged that Brown was not free to go when that question was being asked.  The trial court essentially granted the Defendant’s request to keep out the evidence regarding Brown’s admission that he had been drinking as well as all other evidence collected thereafter as being unconstitutionally obtained.

The Supreme Court explained that the trigger to Miranda warnings is when an individual is subject to custodial interrogation.  Therefore, the questions the Court had to answer was (1) was he interrogated, and (2) was he in custody.

The state did not dispute that when the officer asked Brown if he had been drinking that he was then the subject of an interrogation because the officer knew that question was likely to elicit an incriminating response.  Therefore, the only real determination the Court had to make was whether Brown was in custody at the time he was questioned.

The Supreme Court, in their opinion, explained the difference in examining this situation under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and that while a traffic stop is a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, that seizure does equate to “custody” for Miranda purposes.

Since this issue had never been addressed by the Indiana Supreme Court before, they looked to other jurisdiction for instruction and found that at least a couple states, namely Georgia and Pennsylvania, determined that Miranda warnings were not required for similar sobriety checkpoints.

The Court relied heavily on the decision in Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), in which the U.S. Supreme Court determined that traffic stops and Terry stops do not trigger the need for Miranda warnings.  In making this determination, Berkemer turned on (1) the temporary and brief nature of the stop, and (2) the public nature of the stop.  Here the Court found that there was no substantial difference traffic or Terry stops and the checkpoint that Brown experienced.  The Court held that the checkpoint stop was temporary and brief because the stop only took 2 minutes.  Additionally, the Court determined it to be at least as public as a routine traffic stop because the checkpoint stop took place in well-lit Arby’s parking lot.  Accordingly, because the checkpoint stop was brief, temporary, and public Brown was not in custody and, therefore, Miranda was not required.

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The Court, however, did caution that even though Brown was found not to be in custody, there could be a set of circumstances where detention during a checkpoint stop does trigger Miranda.  This is the same with any police encounter as to whether a constitutional violation has taken place – it always depends on the details and circumstances of each particular incident.  Therefore, if you or anyone you know has been charged with the crime, be sure to contact the experienced Indianapolis criminal defense lawyers  & DUI Attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC for a free consultation.  We are available all day, every day by calling (317) 870-0019 or emailing info@banksbrower.com.