Officer’s Intent Irrelevant When Determining Whether Defendant Was Subject to Custodial Interrogation

In People v. Thomas (3d Dept. 11/9/2018), the Third Department held that the defendant was not subjected to custodial interrogation, even though a police officer testified that he would not have allowed the defendant to leave after he had entered the defendant’s residence.

The police responded to the defendant’s residence following a 911 call reporting a shooting. Defendant was initially asked to back up into the kitchen. The police explained that they simply wanted to be able to enter the residence safely and check the premises. A police officer then interviewed the defendant, his girlfriend, and two roommates together in the kitchen of the residence. The defendant was never handcuffed or otherwise restrained, and the defendant was free to move around the kitchen during the interview. However, a police officer testified that he would not have allowed the defendant to leave after he entered the residence. In other words, the defendant was not free to leave, but the officer never communicated that fact to the defendant.

The Third Department held that the officer’s subjective intent is irrelevant when determining whether or not a suspect was in custody at a particular time, where the officer’s subjective intent is not communicated to the suspect.  Instead, the proper inquiry is “what a reasonable [person], innocent of any crime, would have thought had he [or she] been in the defendant’s position.” The Court concluded, on the facts in the record, that a reasonable person would not have believed that he or she was in custody. Because he was not in custody during the questioning in his kitchen, the police were not required to give him Miranda warnings.

Further, the post-Miranda statements the defendant made at the police station cannot be considered “the fruit of the poisonous tree” because the initial statements were not the product of pre-Miranda custodial interrogation. The Court thus rejected the defendant’s claim that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to raise that ground for suppression of his post-Miranda statements. (BJD)

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