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Monday, April 21, 2003

Is suppression of physical evidence obtained through a negligent Miranda violation required?

The Supreme Court today granted review in a case that will revisit Miranda warnings in the context of suppression of physical evidence. (See the AP report on this here.) In United States v. Patane (303 F.3d 1013) a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that held that while probable cause for arrest of the defendant for being a felon in possession of a firearm existed, the firearm was properly suppressed as the fruit of a Miranda violation.

In the case, the defendant after the defendant was arrested, the arresting police officers began advising the defendant of his Miranda rights, but only got as far as the right to silence when the defendant said that he knew his rights. No further Miranda warnings were given, a fact which the Government concedes on appeal resulted in a Miranda violation. Thus, no admissions the defendant made after the failed Miranda warnings were held to be admissible. Still, an admission the defendant made was the location of a gun in his bedroom. After he admitted to having the gun and the police officer obtained the weapon, the government charged the defendant with possession of a firearm by a felon.

The 10th Circuit held that the government correctly conceded that the defendant's admissions in response to questioning were inadmissible under Miranda. The main issue in the case arose when the government contended that the physical fruit of the Miranda violation--the gun--was admissible. The court disagreed, holding that the physical fruits of this Miranda violation had to be suppressed. The court said that the government's argument was based on precedent from pre-Dickerson Supreme Court jurisprudence on Miranda, and after Dickerson constitutionalized Miranda, an un-Mirandized statement, even if voluntary, is a Fifth Amendment violation.

The court noted a wide variety of Circuit splits in this case (e.g. the First Circuit would suppress when necessary to serve Miranda's deterrent purpose, but would not suppress if the Miranda violation was merely negligent, and the Third and Fourth Circuits have ruled that the physical fruits of a Miranda violation never are subject to suppression). It first examined the cases from the Third and Fourth Circuits. It found that the Third and Fourth Circuit's reasoning that language in Dickerson stating that the case "recognizes the fact that unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment are different from unwarned interrogation under the Fifth Amendment" meant that the Wong Sung exclusionary rule did not apply to physical fruits of Miranda violations was incorrect because the Supreme Court stated that Wong Sung applies to both Fourth and Fifth Amendment cases (see Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 442 & n. 3 (1984) ). The court then said that Elstad indicated that Miranda violations "are 'different' because a narrowed application of the fruits doctrine applies to Miranda violations, not because the fruits doctrine does not apply at all." (emphasis in original) The court finally said that the suppression of the fruits of an un-Mirandized statement is narrow because, "[a]pplication of the fruits doctrine in the Miranda context is not 'broad' because a number of exceptions to this pure rule have been recognized[.]" The court then stated that a further narrowing of the rule would be inappropriate since it would work against the Supreme Court's stated goal of deterring police misconduct through the use of Miranda warnings and the exclusionary rule.

The court also found that the First Circuit's distinction between negligent and intentional Miranda violations were not consistent with the deterrent purpose of the rule ("Miranda itself made clear that the privilege against self-incrimination was animated, not by a desire merely to deter intentional misconduct by police, but by the 'one overriding thought' that 'the constitutional foundation underlying the privilege is the respect a government ... must accord to the dignity and integrity of its citizens.' . . . The personal right to be free of government invasions of the privilege against self-incrimination is violated just as surely by a negligent failure to administer Miranda warnings as a deliberate failure. Deterrence is necessary not merely to deter intentional wrongdoing, but also to ensure that officers diligently (non-negligently) protect--and properly are trained to protect--the constitutional rights of citizens." Patane at 1028.) Thus, the court concluded that the Wong Sung fruits doctrine applied to the physical fruits of both intentional and negligent Miranda violations, and affirmed the trial court order suppressing the gun.

I do not think I agree with the Tenth's Circuit's decision. While I disagree with the Third and Fourth Circuit's decisions finding that all physical evidence obtained as the fruit of a Miranda violation should be allowed, I do not think that the suppression of evidence obtained through a negligent violation of a defendant's Miranda rights sufficiently deters improper police conduct to outweigh the inherent value of the evidence used to convict criminals.

Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.

posted by John Branch @ 3:38 PM

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