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U.S. Supreme Court
BERKEMER v. MCCARTY, 468 U.S. 420 (1984)

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents two related questions: First, does our decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), govern the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogation by a suspect accused of a misdemeanor traffic offense? Second, does the roadside questioning of a motorist detained pursuant to a traffic stop constitute custodial interrogation for the purposes of the doctrine enunciated in Miranda?

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    1. The parties have stipulated to the essential facts. See App. to Pet. for Cert. A-1. On the evening of March 31, 1980, Trooper Williams of the Ohio State Highway Patrol observed respondent's car weaving in and out of a lane on Interstate Highway 270. After following the car for two miles, Williams forced respondent to stop and asked him to get out of the vehicle. When respondent complied, Williams noticed that he was having difficulty standing. At that point, "Williams concluded that would be charged with a traffic offense and, therefore, his freedom to leave the scene was terminated." Id., at A-2. However, respondent was not told that he would be taken into custody. Williams then asked respondent to perform a field sobriety test, commonly known as a "balancing test." Respondent could not do so without falling.

      While still at the scene of the traffic stop, Williams asked respondent whether he had been using intoxicants. Respondent replied that "he had consumed two beers and had smoked several joints of marijuana a short time before." Ibid. Respondent's speech was slurred, and Williams had difficulty understanding him. Williams thereupon formally placed respondent under arrest and transported him in the patrol car to the Franklin County Jail.

      At the jail, respondent was given an intoxilyzer test to determine the concentration of alcohol in his blood.[fn1] The test did not detect any alcohol whatsoever in respondent's system. Williams then resumed questioning respondent in order to obtain information for inclusion in the State Highway Patrol Alcohol Influence Report. Respondent answered affirmatively a question whether he had been drinking. When then asked if he was under the influence of alcohol, he said, "I guess, barely." Ibid. Williams next asked respondent to indicate on the form whether the marihuana he had smoked had been treated with any chemicals. In the section of the report headed "Remarks," respondent wrote, "No dust or PCP in the pot. Rick McCarty." App. 2.

      At no point in this sequence of events did Williams or anyone else tell respondent that he had a right to remain silent, to consult with an attorney, and to have an attorney appointed for him if he could not afford one.
    2. Respondent was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in violation of Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4511.19 (Supp. 1983). Under Ohio law, that offense is a first-degree misdemeanor and is punishable by fine or imprisonment for up to six months. § 2929.21 (1982). Incarceration for a minimum of three days is mandatory. § 4511.99 (Supp. 1983).

      Respondent moved to exclude the various incriminating statements he had made to Trooper Williams on the ground that introduction into evidence of those statements would violate the Fifth Amendment insofar as he had not been informed of his constitutional rights prior to his interrogation. When the trial court denied the motion, respondent pleaded "no contest" and was found guilty.[fn2] He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 80 of which were suspended, and was fined $300, $100 of which were suspended.

      On appeal to the Franklin County Court of Appeals, respondent renewed his constitutional claim. Relying on a prior decision by the Ohio Supreme Court, which held that the rule announced in Miranda "is not applicable to misdemeanors," State v. Pyle, 19 Ohio St. 2d 64, 249 N. E. 2d 826 (1969), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1007 (1970), the Court of Appeals rejected respondent's argument and affirmed his conviction. State v. McCarty, No. 80AP-680 (Mar. 10, 1981). The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed respondent's appeal on the ground that it failed to present a "substantial constitutional question." State v. McCarty, No. 81-710 (July 1, 1981).

      Respondent then filed an action for a writ of in the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.[fn3] The District Court dismissed the petition, holding that " Miranda warnings do not have to be given prior to in custody interrogation of a suspect arrested for a traffic offense." McCarty v. Herdman, No. C-2-81-1118 (Dec. 11, 1981).

      A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that " Miranda warnings must be given to all individuals prior to custodial interrogation, whether the offense investigated be a felony or a misdemeanor traffic offense." McCarty v. Herdman, 716 F.2d 361, 363 (1983) (emphasis in original). In applying this principle to the facts of the case, the Court of Appeals distinguished between the statements made by respondent before and after his formal arrest.[fn4] The post-arrest statements, the court ruled, were plainly inadmissible; because respondent was not warned of his constitutional rights prior to or " the point that Trooper Williams took to the police station," his ensuing admissions could not be used against him. Id., at 364. The court's treatment of respondent's prearrest statements was less clear. It eschewed a holding that "the mere stopping of a motor vehicle triggers Miranda," ibid., but did not expressly rule that the statements made by respondent at the scene of the traffic stop could be used against him. In the penultimate paragraph of its opinion, the court asserted that " failure to advise of his constitutional rights rendered at least some of his statements inadmissible," ibid. (emphasis added), suggesting that the court was uncertain as to the status of the prearrest confessions.[fn5] "Because was convicted on inadmissible evidence," the court deemed it necessary to vacate his conviction and order the District Court to issue a writ of . Ibid.[fn6] However, the Court of Appeals did not specify which statements, if any, could be used against respondent in a retrial.

      We granted certiorari to resolve confusion in the federal and state courts regarding the applicability of our ruling in Miranda to interrogations involving minor offenses[fn7] and to questioning of motorists detained pursuant to traffic stops.[fn8] 464 U.S. 1038 (1984).