Last week I got the excellent news that I won a suppression hearing in a Knox County case. 

The client (let's call him George) was accused of committing a crime while incarcerated at the Maine State Prison in Warren. George was taken from his cell and interrogated by law enforcement. George was never read his Miranda rights. His statements were written down and sent to the District Attorney's office to be used against him.

The curious question (as you probably gathered from the headline) is, when is a person in custody when they are in custody?

[Quick lesson: essentially, if you are in custody, you need to be told you don't have to talk to the Man. If you are already in custody for some other reason, do your interrogators need to remind you that you don't need to talk to them? If you are already in custody, should the Miranda warning be always given?]

Turns out, the Supreme Court decided that when a person is already in custody, they are not considered to be already in custody for the purposes of interrogation and Miranda rights unless there is additional restraint put on them.

So the Nine determined that bars and guards and cells and prison uniforms don't count as custody by themselves. Not being able to leave and go where you want does not count as custody. Or it doesn't count as custody enough.

Their logic is that an inmate is already used to that level of restraint. They are, essentially, already at home in prison. The real concern is probably more likely that if inmates are determined to be in custody, they would always need to be reminded they have the right to remain silent. And that would benefit the accused, not law enforcement.

In my George's case, the fact that he was ordered to "cuff up" by putting his hands behind his back, ordered to insert his hands through a slot in the cell door so he could be shackled and then escorted by two burly guards down to the "interview" room was in fact additional restraint.

Prosecutor disagreed, said that's the protocol every time an inmate in solitary confinement  is moved from place to place (the prison uses the euphemism "Secure Management Unit"). Said George was used to that level of restraint. That it was a daily thing for him. No big deal.

Judge agreed that extracting George from his cell, in handcuffs, with a guard on each side, and marching them to be questioned is in fact interrogation. And if a person is questioned while in custody, they need to be told they have the right to remain silent. And if they are not given that warning, what they say cannot be used against them in court.

Lucky George. 

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion when George gets his next day in court: the trial.



AuthorJonathan Handelman