Impact of New US S.Ct. Miranda Case
The US Supreme Court recently issued a Miranda case, finding that a prison inmate was not in custody for the purposes of a Miranda analysis under the Fifth Amendment. The question is how much influence the US Supreme Court has on how Oregon courts analyze what circumstances are considered “compelling” under an Article I, Section 12 argument? Some older Oregon cases have indicated that the analysis is similar for Fifth Amendment custody and Article I, Section 12 compelling circumstances. But newer Oregon cases clearly diverge from the federal analysis. The bottom line is that Oregon courts would likely agree with the Supreme Court that there is no categorical rule that inmates are in custody. But they would also likely agree with the Supreme Court dissenters that Mr. Fields’ Constitutional rights were violated.
In Howes v. Fields, the majority held that police did not need to give defendant Miranda warnings. The majority focused on the following facts: defendant (1) was told at the outset of the interrogation, and reminded thereafter, that he was free to leave and could go back to his cell whenever he wanted; (2) was not physically restrained or threatened; (3) was interviewed in a well-lit, average sized conference room where the door was sometimes left open; and (4) was offered food and water.
The dissent, on the other hand, concluded that the police should have given Miranda warnings. The dissent focuses on the following facts: defendant (1) was removed from his cell in the evening; (2) was taken to a conference room in the sheriff’s quarters; (3) was questioned by two armed deputies long into the night and early morning; (4) was not told at the outset that he had the right to decline to speak with the deputies and believed the deputies would not have allowed him to leave the room; (5) stated that he did not want to speak with them anymore; and (6) was not given his evening medications.
If the federal test for self-incrimination heavily influences the Oregon “compelling circumstances” test, then this looks like a very bad case for Oregon. However, reading the Oregon cases, it’s clear that the Oregon test is different from the federal test, and there is language to suggest that the Oregon test provides broader protections than the federal test.
Under Article I, Section 12, Miranda warnings are required when police place a person in a setting that is “compelling.” The test to determine if a situation is compelling is a multi-factor one that considers (1) the location of the encounter, (2) the length of the encounter, (3), the amount of pressure exerted on defendant, and (4) defendant’s ability to terminate the encounter.
In contrast, under the federal 5th Amendment, Miranda warnings need to be given to a person being interrogated when a reasonable person would feel he or she is not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. A person’s ability to freely move plays a much more central role in the federal test.
The same questions – such as whether or not defendant felt free to leave — may be asked for both tests. In addition, both tests protect the same interest. Ultimately, however, the two tests have been developed through different sets of case law, and the “freedom of movement” inquiry is not as heavily emphasized in Oregon case law.
State v. Warner, a 2002 case, does state that, “[t]he Oregon constitutional test is comparable to the test for determining whether a person is in custody for Fifth Amendment purposes, and Oregon courts have approached the two questions using the same analysis.” The court supports that statement with two cases: Zalinka and Brown. However, the language of those cases seem to suggest that, not only are the federal test and the Oregon test different, the Oregon test is a broader, more robust test.
In Zalinka, the court writes that “[u]nder the Oregon Constitution, Miranda-like warnings are required when the defendant is in ‘full custody’ and ‘may be required in circumstances that, although they do not rise to the level of full custody, create a `setting which judges would and officers should recognize to be ‘compelling.’” The court is saying that if a defendant is placed in “full custody,” he or she needs to be Mirandized. See State v. Magee. The court then goes one step further, indicating that circumstances do not constitute “full custody” may still be recognized as “compelling.”
In Brown, the court writes “[the Federal] test is a useful starting point for determining whether Article I, section 12, requires the police to give warnings in a particular situation” (emphasis added). The court describes the federal test as a “starting point,” presumably because the protections the federal test provides is less robust than the state test. (side note: In Oregon, state courts are supposed to analyze the state’s laws before reaching a federal constitutional claim. In Sterling v. Cupp, the court writes that, “the proper sequence is to analyze the state’s law, including its constitutional law, before reaching a federal constitutional claim.” Perhaps Zalinka and Brown should have started with state law first… but if the federal test is more stringent than the state test, it would make sense for a court to apply the narrower test first before moving on to the broader test).
Particularly once one reads the more recent cases, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the Oregon test provides broader protections than the federal test. Oregon defense attorneys should not be too bothered by the SCOTUS opinion. And if ever confronted with a federal case about Miranda rights, lawyers can confidently argue that the “compelling circumstances” argument is different from and offers broader protections than the federal “full custody” test.