Mr. Roswell was not subjected to pressures in the course of the traffic stop that sufficiently impaired the free exercise of his privilege against self-incrimination to require that he be warned of his constitutional rights.
State v. Roswell
2022 – Ohio – 260
Eleventh District Appellate Court
Portgage County, Ohio
January 31, 2022
On Friday May 22, 2020, at approximately 10:21 p.m., Portage County, Ohio Sheriff’s Deputy Bradley was on duty on Route 59 in Ravenna Township, Portage County, Ohio. The deputy saw the Mr. Gary Roswell vehicle pull out of the drive of a known drug house. Deputy Bradley followed the vehicle and was unable to observe a visible license plate. The deputy observed the vehicle commit a marked lanes violation, which prompted the deputy to pull the vehicle over. This is known as a pre-textual stop. For more on the pre-textual stop see Wh(r)en is it lawful to stop a vehicle?.
When the deputy initiated the stop, he saw the front-seat passenger crawl into the backseat and subsequently disappear. The vehicle was stopped on State Route 59 and Short Street. Deputy Diemert of the Portage County Sheriff’s Department arrived soon after the stop to assist Dep. Bradley. Dep. Diemert approached the vehicle and determined Mr. Clifford Parham was the passenger in the backseat but did not match the description of the back seat crawler. The deputy could not see the other individual who crawled into the backseat.
What would you do if a vehicle occupant crawled from the front seat passenger seat to the back seat … and then disappeared? Like Deputy Bradley you should cherish officer safety.
The deputies asked Mr. Roswell to exit the vehicle. He was asked where he was going and what he was doing. Mr. Roswell told the officers that he picked up Mr. Parham and was taking him to the drive-through. When asked both Mr. Roswell and Mr. Parham claimed no one else was in the vehicle. Of course, both of them were lying.
Upon further questioning, the Mr. Roswell stated that they had pulled into the Dollar General on Rout[e] 59, as well, and the store was not open. Dep. Bradley asked Mr. Roswell for permission to search the vehicle, which was granted. The deputy found a me[t]al spoon in the front passenger side of the vehicle. A female, later identified as Ms. Cherish Hill, was located in the trunk area of the vehicle. She stated she crawled into the trunk because she had an outstanding warrant. Evidently, she cherished her freedom but her actions before on this day led to a different outcome.
After locating Ms. Hill in the trunk of the vehicle, the deputies handcuffed her and read her Miranda Rights. The deputies then began to question Mr. Roswell again, asking him what was really going on. Mr. Roswell told the officers that he picked Ms. Hill and Mr. Parham up to take them to the drive-through and then went to a house on State Route 59 and Short Street. Mr. Roswell stated the person they were looking for was not home, so they left. Mr. Parham, when asked said, that they were going to pick up a friend, but he could not remember the person’s name. Misremembering a friend’s name who is need of a car ride ON THE WAY TO PICK HIM UP, appears to be a reasonable explanation to … ABSOLUTELY NO ONE.
The deputies, when questioned during the suppression hearing, admitted Miranda Warnings were not given to the Mr. Roswell, and that he was not free to leave the scene during their investigation. Mr. Roswell filed a Motion to Suppress his statements because they were violative of his Fifth Amendment Rights. The trial court denied his Motion to Suppress and on February 25, 2021, Roswell pled no contest to one count of Obstructing Justice.
On April 27, 2021, Roswell filed a Notice of Appeal. On appeal, he raises the following assignment of error: “The Trial Court erred as a matter of law in overruling Appellant’s Motion to Suppress Evidence.”
Analysis – When does law enforcement have to Mirandize a suspect during a traffic stop?
In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, (1966), the United States Supreme Court established procedural safeguards for securing the privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, (1984), the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of “whether the roadside questioning of a motorist detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop should be considered ‘custodial interrogation.’” Id. at 435. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the “noncoercive aspect of ordinary traffic stops prompts us to hold that persons temporarily detained pursuant to such stops are not ‘in custody’ for the purposes of Miranda.” Id. at 440.
Although the stopping of an automobile and the detention of its occupants constitutes a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, the circumstances of the usual traffic stop are more akin to an investigative detention or “Terry stop” rather than to a formal arrest. Id. at 436-439. “Typically, this means that the officer may ask the detainee a moderate number of questions to determine his identity and to try to obtain information confirming or dispelling the officer’s suspicions.” Id. at 439. If you have sat in one of my classes this is where I demonstrate the Criminal Justice Triangle, where an officer attempts to gain more information or evidence. The Berkemer court further opined “[I]f a motorist who has been detained pursuant to a traffic stop thereafter is subjected to treatment that renders him ‘in custody’ for practical purposes, he will be entitled to the full panoply of protections prescribed by Miranda.” Id. at 440.
In reaching its conclusions, the U.S. Supreme Court in Berkemer noted the two features of an ordinary traffic stop mitigate the danger that a person questioned will be induced to “speak where he would not otherwise do so freely,” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S., at 467. This standard is ONLY easy to discern underneath florescent lights in an office with a law book or the internet ready-at-hand. It is a much more challenging doctrine to apply when evaluating it at the scene of a traffic stop.
The Eleventh District Appellate Court evaluated the Berkemer standard as follows: First, detention of a motorist pursuant to a traffic stop is presumptively temporary and brief. The vast majority of roadside detentions last only a few minutes. A motorist’s expectations, when he sees a policeman’s light flashing behind him, are that he will be obliged to spend a short period of time answering questions and waiting while the officer checks his license and registration, that he may then be given a citation, but that in the end he most likely will be allowed to continue on his way. In this respect, questioning incident to an ordinary traffic stop is quite different from stationhouse interrogation, which frequently is prolonged, and in which the detainee often is aware that questioning will continue until he provides his interrogators the answers they seek. See id., at 451.
Second, circumstances associated with the typical traffic stop are not such that the motorist feels completely at the mercy of the police. To be sure, the aura of authority surrounding an armed, uniformed officer and the knowledge that the officer has some discretion in deciding whether to issue a citation, in combination, exert some pressure on the detainee to respond to questions. But other aspects of the situation substantially offset these forces. Perhaps most importantly, the typical traffic stop is public, at least to some degree. Passersby, on foot or in other cars, witness the interaction of officer and motorist. This exposure to public view both reduces the ability of an unscrupulous policeman to use illegitimate means to elicit self-incriminating statements and diminishes the motorist’s fear that, if he does not cooperate, he will be subjected to abuse. The fact that the detained motorist typically is confronted by only one or at most two policemen further mutes his sense of vulnerability. In short, the atmosphere surrounding an ordinary traffic stop is substantially less “police dominated” than that surrounding the kinds of interrogation at issue in Miranda itself, see 384 U.S., at 445, 491-498, and in the subsequent cases in which we have applied Miranda. (Footnotes omitted.) Id. at 437-439. In recent years the other critical factor not listed here by the court is the ability for the court to review these interactions with body camera video.
When is Miranda required during a traffic stop … an example:
In recent case issued by the Eleventh District Appellate Court, State v. Benson, 2019- Ohio-3234, the court found that a passenger in a vehicle was entitled to Miranda warnings after admitting to the possession of drugs. While she was still a passenger in the vehicle, the officers’ questioning of Ms. Benson reflected their suspicions that she was in possession of drugs: “I can already see how nervous you are getting”, “[y]ou got something on you”, “where’s it at?”, “tell the truth,” and “be honest.” Id. at ¶ 9. The vehicle in which she was a passenger was “blocked in the rear by three police cruisers” and she was confronted by five officers upon exiting. Id. at ¶ 53. This court relied heavily on the nature of the officers’ questioning of Ms. Benson in concluding that the Miranda warnings should have been given. “The questions from the outset of the stop were investigative as to Ms. Benson’s crime of possession and possession for sale. Once Ms. Benson admitted to having ‘speed,’ and the police removed her from the vehicle, she was for all intents and purposes ‘in custody.’” Id. at 56.
Should Deputy Bradley have Mirandized Mr. Roswell?
Several points should be made in support of the holding that Miranda warnings were not required. The fact that Mr. Roswell drew the attention of law enforcement because he was observed leaving a known “drug house” is of no import in the present case as that fact had no discernable influence on the officer’s conduct. Mr. Roswell was not questioned about narcotics and his person was not searched. Mr. Roswell may have been the subject of a narcotics investigation at the time of the stop, but this did not render him “in custody” for the purposes of Miranda. As the United States Supreme Court recognized: “A policeman’s unarticulated plan has no bearing on the question [of] whether a suspect was ‘in custody’ at a particular time; the only relevant inquiry is how a reasonable man in the suspect’s position would have understood the situation.” Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 442. Here, Dep. Bradley did not articulate that the primary reason for the traffic stop was that Mr. Roswell had just left a known drug house.
The deputies’ observation of a third person in the vehicle and request to search the vehicle did not alter the nature of the stop. The U.S. Supreme Court compared the typical traffic stop to a Terry stop in which an officer may ask “a moderate number of questions to try to obtain information confirming or dispelling the officer’s suspicions.” Id. at 439. This begs the question when does a ‘moderate amount of questioning” become a substantive amount of questioning? This is yet one more example of why law enforcement is THE hardest job in America, as there will never be an appellate court judge at the traffic stop conducing real-time evaluation.
Mr. Roswell and Mr. Parham were asked if anyone else was in the vehicle and then consented to a search of the vehicle. The additional intrusion occasioned by the suspicions regarding a third passenger was relatively minimal and wholly justified by concern for the deputies’ safety. Moreover, there is nothing inherently illegal about hiding a passenger in the trunk unlike, by contrast, there is about hiding weapons or narcotics. Hiding a person is highly suspicious but not necessarily incriminating. In today’s culture, a question of human trafficking would be top of mind for a female to flee from the passenger compartment to the trunk during the traffic stop.
The fact that Mr. Roswell was not free to leave the scene or disobey the officers’ commands did not render him “in custody”, for purposes of the Miranda doctrine. The United States Supreme Court in Berkemer recognized that, “[U]nder the law of most States, it is a crime either to ignore a policeman’s signal to stop one’s car or, once having stopped, to drive away without permission,” and that “few motorists would feel free either to disobey a directive to pull over or to leave the scene of a traffic stop without being told they might do so.” Id. at. 436. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the typical traffic stop did not trigger Mirandawarnings. The Supreme Court of Ohio further clarified this point by noting the distinction between being “free to leave” and being “in custody”: “[T]he relevant inquiry is whether a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have understood himself or herself to be in custody. This nuance is important and well reasoned. If the inquiry were whether the driver felt free to leave, then every traffic stop could be considered a custodial interrogation * * *. And a law-enforcement officer, in the midst of investigating a traffic stop and performing all its attendant procedures, would not consider a driver free to leave unless given permission. But “not free to leave” and “in custody” are distinct concepts.”. Cleveland v. Oles, 152 Ohio St.3d 1, 30.
The Eleventh District Court held “In the present case, Mr. Roswell was not subjected to pressures in the course of the traffic stop that sufficiently impaired the free exercise of his privilege against self-incrimination to require that he be warned of his constitutional rights. The sole assignment of error is without merit.”.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Roswell, 2022 – Ohio 260.
This case was issued by the Eleventh District Appellate Court which is binding in the following Ohio counties: Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Trumbull.
- Whether or not a suspect is entitled to a Miranda warning at a traffic stop or in any other circumstance is a factual determination based on the totality of the circumstances. Keep in mind that the two primary elements of Miranda must be established before the warning must be given. The first is that the suspect is in custody. As this case and others have concluded, most traffic stops are not considered custody for the purpose of a Miranda warning. However, custody could be constructive and not actual. For more on Miranda and custody see Miranda – Both a Noun and a Verb andWas Mike Unlawfully Detained at Chewy?
- At the moment Ms. Hill climbed into the back seat during the traffic stop that clearly increased the level of suspicion by Dep. Bradley. The deputy needs to be commended for several actions he took on this traffic stop. But at the top of the list is calling for back up when Ms. Hill cherished the fetal position in the trunk over remaining still in the front seat for the duration of the stop. Well done Deputy Bradley!
- The determination of custody for Miranda will always be based on the facts of each encounter. This article provides a detailed overview of the nuances of Miranda during a traffic stop.
Does your agency train on Custodial Interrogation?
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!