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Understanding the Public Safety Exception to Miranda Rights

In general, when an officer puts a suspect under custodial interrogation, the officer must give the suspect Miranda warnings. That is, the officer is required by law to tell the suspect that he has the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. In some limited exceptions, though, these warnings are not necessary.

A recent case out of the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, highlights such an exception. In this case, an officer stopped the defendant on an unrelated charge. He removed one firearm from the defendant’s car. Before the defendant left, the officer learned that the defendant was a suspect in an armed robbery and aggravated assault case. The officer then re-approached the defendant, asking if he had an additional weapon in the vehicle. At that point, the defendant replied that he did have a gun in the car.

Later, the State indicted the defendant on armed robbery, aggravated assault, and misconduct involving weapons. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the weaponry evidence, arguing that the officer asked about the second weapon before providing the necessary Miranda warnings.

When the trial court denied the motion to suppress, the defendant appealed. In its decision, the court agreed that the defendant had a Fifth Amendment right to receive his Miranda warnings. At the same time, though, the officer reasonably declined to recite these warnings because of the public safety exception. Under this exception, an officer can ask a question without giving Miranda warnings if there is an “objectively reasonable” need to protect the public from danger.

Here, the officer correctly used the exception. He had already found one weapon in the defendant’s car, and it was reasonable to think there might have been a second weapon. This exception, noted the court, is generally not intended to let officers ask questions with the goal of getting evidence from a suspect; it is only appropriate when the officer’s or the public’s safety is an immediate issue.

This exception is a narrow one, but it can be a powerful tool for the government when arguing against a motion to suppress. To find out if your Fifth Amendment rights may have been violated, we recommend that you speak with a qualified Phoenix violent crimes attorney that can look at your circumstances and help you correctly apply them to the law in Arizona.

Are You or a Loved One in Need of a Phoenix Violent Crimes Attorney?

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in the state of Arizona, call us at the Law Office of James E. Novak. We fight relentlessly for criminal defendants to make sure they have access to the highest quality representation possible, because we know how much is on the line when fighting charges that threaten your freedom.

For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Phoenix violent crimes attorney, reach out to us today by calling 480-413-1499. You can also fill out our online form to tell us about your case, and we will get back in touch with you as soon as possible.

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