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


* Anthony J. Celebrezze, Jr., Attorney General, and Richard David Drake, Assistant Attorney General, filed a brief for the State of Ohio as amicus curiae urging reversal.

Jacob D. Fuchsberg and Charles S. Sims filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.

  1. For a description of the technology associated with the intoxilyzer test, see California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 481-482 (1984).
  2. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2937.07 (1982) provides, in pertinent part: "If the plea be 'no contest' or words of similar import in pleading to a misdemeanor, it shall constitute a stipulation that the judge or magistrate may make finding of guilty or not guilty from the explanation of circumstances, and if guilt be found, impose or continue for sentence accordingly." Ohio Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(H) provides: "The plea of no contest does not preclude a defendant from asserting upon appeal that the trial court prejudicially erred in ruling on a pretrial motion, including a pretrial motion to suppress evidence."
  3. On respondent's motion, the state trial court stayed execution of respondent's sentence pending the outcome of his application for a writ of . State v. McCarty, No. 80-TF-C-123915 (Franklin County Mun. Ct., July 28, 1981).
  4. In differentiating respondent's various admissions, the Court of Appeals accorded no significance to the parties' stipulation that respondent's "freedom to leave the scene was terminated" at the moment Trooper Williams formed an intent to arrest respondent. The court reasoned that a "'reasonable man' test," not a subjective standard, should control the determination of when a suspect is taken into custody for the purposes of Miranda. McCarty v. Herdman, 716 F.2d, at 362, n. 1 (quoting Lowe v. United States, 407 F.2d 1391, 1397 (CA9 1969)).
  5. Judge Wellford, dissenting, observed: "As I read the opinion, the majority finds that McCarty was not in custody until he was formally placed under arrest." 716 F.2d, at 364. The majority neither accepted nor disavowed this interpretation of its ruling.
  6. Judge Wellford's dissent was premised on his view that the incriminating statements made by respondent after he was formally taken into custody were "essentially repetitious" of the statements he made before his arrest. Reasoning that the prearrest statements were admissible, Judge Wellford argued that the trial court's failure to suppress the post-arrest statements was "harmless error." Id., at 365.
  7. In Clay v. Riddle, 541 F.2d 456 (1976), the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that persons arrested for traffic offenses need not be given Miranda warnings. Id., at 457. Several state courts have taken similar positions. See State v. Bliss, 238 A. 2d 848, 850 (Del. 1968); County of Dade v. Callahan, 259 So. 2d 504, 507 (Fla. App. 1971), cert. denied, 265 So. 2d 50 (Fla. 1972); State v. Gabrielson, 192 N. W. 2d 792, 796 (Iowa 1971), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 912 (1972); State v. Angelo, 251 La. 250, 254-255, 203 So. 2d 710, 711-717 (1967); State v. Neal, 476 S. W. 2d 547, 553 (Mo. 1972); State v. Macuk, 57 N. J. 1, 15-16, 268 A. 2d 1, 9 (1970). Other state courts have refused to limit in this fashion the reach of Miranda. See Campbell v. Superior Court, 106 Ariz. 542, 552, 479 P. 2d 685, 695 (1971); Commonwealth v. Brennan, 386 Mass. 772, 775, 438 N. E. 2d 60, 63 (1982); State v. Kinn, 288 Minn. 31, 35, 178 N. W. 2d 888, 891 (1970); State v. Lawson, 285 N. C. 320, 327-328, 204 S. E. 2d 843, 848 (1974); State v. Fields, 294 N. W. 2d 404, 409 (N. D. 1980) (Miranda applicable at least to "more serious such as driving while intoxicated"); State v. Buchholz, 11 Ohio St. 3d 24, 28, 462 N. E. 2d 1222, 1226 (1984) (overruling State v. Pyle, 19 Ohio St. 2d 64, 249 N. E. 2d 826 (1969), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1007 (1970), and holding that " Miranda warnings must be given prior to any custodial interrogation regardless of whether the individual is suspected of committing a felony or misdemeanor"); State v. Roberti, 293 Ore. 59, 644 P. 2d 1104, on rehearing, 293 Ore. 236, 646 P. 2d 1341 (1982), cert. pending, No. 82-315; Commonwealth v. Meyer, 488 Pa. 297, 305-306, 412 A. 2d 517, 521 (1980); Holman v. Cox, 598 P. 2d 1331, 1333 (Utah 1979); State v. Darnell, 8 Wash. App. 627, 628, 508 P. 2d 613, 615, cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1112 (1973).
  8. The lower courts have dealt with the problem of roadside questioning in a wide variety of ways. For a spectrum of positions, see State v. Tellez, 6 Ariz. App. 251, 256, 431 P. 2d 691, 696 (1967) (Miranda warnings must be given as soon as the policeman has "reasonable grounds" to believe the detained motorist has committed an offense); Newberry v. State, 552 S. W. 2d 457, 461 (Tex. Crim. App. 1977) (Miranda applies when there is probable cause to arrest the driver and the policeman "considers [the driver] to be in custody and would not . . . let him leave"); State v. Roberti, 293 Ore., at 236, 646 P. 2d, at 1341 (Miranda applies as soon as the officer forms an intention to arrest the motorist); People v. Ramirez, 199 Colo. 367, 372, n. 5, 609 P. 2d 616, 618, n. 5 (1980) (en banc); State v. Darnell, supra, at 629-630, 508 P. 2d, at 615 (driver is "in custody" for Miranda purposes at least by the time he is asked to take a field sobriety test); Commonwealth v. Meyer, supra, at 307, 412 A. 2d, at 521-522 (warnings are required as soon as the motorist "reasonably believes his freedom of action is being restricted"); Lowe v. United States, supra, at 1394, 1396; State v. Sykes, 285 N. C. 202, 205-206, 203 S. E. 2d 849, 850 (1974) (Miranda is inapplicable to a traffic stop until the motorist is subjected to formal arrest or the functional equivalent thereof); Allen v. United States, 129 U. S. App. D.C. 61, 63-64, 390 F.2d 476, 478-479 (" inquiry can be made [without giving Miranda warnings] as part of an investigation notwithstanding limited and brief restraints by the police in their effort to screen crimes from relatively routine mishaps"), modified, 131 U. S. App. D.C. 358, 404 F.2d 1335 (1968); Holman v. Cox, supra, at 1333 (Miranda applies upon formal arrest).
  9. In Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971), the Court did sanction use of statements obtained in violation of Miranda to impeach the defendant who had made them. The Court was careful to note, however, that the jury had been instructed to consider the statements "only in passing on [the defendant's] credibility and not as evidence of guilt." 401 U.S., at 223.
  10. The one exception to this consistent line of decisions is New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984). The Court held in that case that, when the police arrest a suspect under circumstances presenting an imminent danger to the public safety, they may without informing him of his constitutional rights ask questions essential to elicit information necessary to neutralize the threat to the public. Once such information has been obtained, the suspect must be given the standard warnings.
  11. Not all of petitioner's formulations of his proposal are consistent. At some points in his brief and at oral argument, petitioner appeared to advocate an exception solely for drunken-driving charges; at other points, he seemed to favor a line between felonies and misdemeanors. Because all of these suggestions suffer from similar infirmities, we do not differentiate among them in the ensuing discussion.
  12. Thus, under Ohio law, while a first offense of negligent vehicular homicide is a misdemeanor, a second offense is a felony. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2903.07 (Supp. 1983). In some jurisdictions, a certain number of convictions for drunken driving triggers a quantum jump in the status of the crime. In South Dakota, for instance, first and second offenses for driving while intoxicated are misdemeanors, but a third offense is a felony. See Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 280, n. 4 (1983).
  13. Cf. Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 761 (1984) (WHITE, J., dissenting) (observing that officers in the field frequently "have neither the time nor the competence to determine" the severity of the offense for which they are considering arresting a person). It might be argued that the police would not need to make such guesses; whenever in doubt, they could ensure compliance with the law by giving the full Miranda warnings. It cannot be doubted, however, that in some cases a desire to induce a suspect to reveal information he might withhold if informed of his rights would induce the police not to take the cautious course.
  14. See, e. g., United States v. Schultz, 442 F.Supp. 176 (Md. 1977) (investigation of erratic driving developed into inquiry into narcotics offenses and terminated in a charge of possession of a sawed-off shotgun); United States v. Hatchel, 329 F.Supp. 113 (Mass. 1971) (investigation into offense of driving the wrong way on a one-way street yielded a charge of possession of a stolen car).