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Arizona Court Rejects Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Statement after Finding Interaction Was Not “Custodial Interrogation”

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona retail theft case requiring the court to determine if the defendant’s pre- and post-arrest statements to police should have been suppressed at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the police officer’s interaction with the defendant before his arrest did not constitute “custodial interrogation,” and thus neither of the defendant’s statements were suppressible.

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call that a man wearing a black and orange backpack walked into a convenience store and took beer on two separate occasions on the same day. Shortly after the second alleged theft, police officers stopped the defendant, who was carrying two 24-packs of beer, one on each shoulder. When asked where he got the beer and how he paid for it, the defendant responded that he got it from a store up the street and that a “higher power” paid for it.

The officer handcuffed the defendant, read him his Miranda rights, and then asked several follow-up questions. The defendant admitted to stealing the beer. The officer then searched the defendant’s backpack, and found additional beer. Finally, the store employees who witnessed the theft were transported to the defendant’s location, and they positively identified him as the person who entered the store and stole the beer.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress his pre- and post-arrest statements on the basis that 1.) the responding police officer engaged in a custodial interrogation without advising the defendant of his Miranda rights and, 2.) the statements he made after being read his Miranda warnings were inadmissible because they were the product of a “deliberate and improper two-step Miranda process.” The court rejected the defendant’s first argument, finding it to be dispositive of the second argument.

The court began its analysis by noting that while police officers are able to ask questions of a suspect without providing Miranda warnings, once a suspect is in custody, officers must advise the suspect of their Miranda warnings. Otherwise, any statements that are made in response to questioning by police will generally be inadmissible at trial. The court explained that there are three considerations when engaging in this analysis: 1.) the site of the questioning, 2.) the presence of objective indicia of arrest, and 3.) the length and form of the interrogation.

After considering each of these factors, the court determined that the interaction between the defendant and the arresting officer was not a custodial interrogation. Thus, the officer was not required to read the defendant his Miranda rights before asking him basic questions. The court went on to explain that, because the pre-arrest statements were not suppressible, they post-arrest statements were not the product of a “deliberate and improper two-step Miranda process.”

Have You Been Arrested after Making a Statement to Police?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious Arizona felony crime after speaking with police or detectives, it may be that your statement was illegally taken. If so, prosecutors cannot legally use your statement against you. Attorney James E. Novak is a dedicated Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of motions to suppress, and knows what it takes to succeed on his clients’ behalf. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.