LAWS PAGES

(Page 2 of 5)

U.S. Supreme Court
PENNSYLVANIA v. MUNIZ, 496 U.S. 582 (1990)

  1. This does not end our inquiry, for Muniz's answer to the sixth birthday question was incriminating, not just because of his delivery, but also because of his answer's content; the trier of fact could infer from Muniz's answer (that he did not know the proper date) that his mental state was confused.[fn6] The Commonwealth and United States as amicus curiae argue that this incriminating inference does not trigger the protections of the Fifth Amendment privilege because the inference concerns "the physiological functioning of [Muniz's] brain," Brief for Petitioner 21, which is asserted to be every bit as "real or physical" as the physiological makeup of his blood and the timbre of his voice.

    But this characterization addresses the wrong question; that the "fact" to be inferred might be said to concern the physical status of Muniz's brain merely describes the way in which the inference is incriminating. The correct question for present purposes is whether the incriminating inference of mental confusion is drawn from a testimonial act or from physical evidence. In Schmerber, for example, we held that the police could compel a suspect to provide a blood sample in order to determine the physical makeup of his blood and thereby draw an inference about whether he was intoxicated. This compulsion was outside of the Fifth Amendment's protection, not simply because the evidence concerned the suspect's physical body, but rather because the evidence was obtained in a manner that did not entail any testimonial act on the part of the suspect: "[n]ot even a shadow of testimonial compulsion upon or enforced communication by the accused was involved either in the extraction or in the chemical analysis." 384 U.S., at 765. In contrast, had the police instead asked the suspect directly whether his blood contained a high concentration of alcohol, his affirmative response would have been testimonial even though it would have been used to draw the same inference concerning his physiology. See ibid. ("[T]he blood test evidence ... was neither [suspect's] testimony nor evidence relating to some communicative act"). In this case, the question is not whether a suspect's "impaired mental faculties" can fairly be characterized as an aspect of his physiology, but rather whether Muniz's response to the sixth birthday question that gave rise to the inference of such an impairment was testimonial in nature.[fn7] 2265, p.386." 487 U.S., at 210-211.
  2. After canvassing the purposes of the privilege recognized in prior cases,[fn8][fn9] (quoting Couch v. United States, 409 U.S. 322, 327 (1973)).

    We need not explore the outer boundaries of what is "testimonial" today, for our decision flows from the concept's core meaning. Because the privilege was designed primarily to prevent "a recurrence of the Inquisition and the Star Chamber, even if not in their stark brutality," Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, 428 (1956), it is evident that a suspect is "compelled ... to be a witness against himself" at least whenever he must face the modern-day analog of the historic trilemma_either during a criminal trial where a sworn witness faces the identical three choices, or during custodial interrogation where, as we explained in Miranda, the choices are analogous and hence raise similar concerns.[fn10] Whatever else it may include, therefore, the definition of "testimonial" evidence articulated in Doe must encompass all responses to questions that, if asked of a sworn suspect during a criminal trial, could place the suspect in the "cruel trilemma." This conclusion is consistent with our recognition in Doe that "[t]he vast majority of verbal statements thus will be testimonial" because "[t]here are very few instances in which a verbal statement, either oral or written, will not convey information or assert facts." 487 U.S., at 213. Whenever a suspect is asked for a response requiring him to communicate an express or implied assertion of fact or belief,[fn11] the suspect confronts the "trilemma" of truth, falsity, or silence and hence the response (whether based on truth or falsity) contains a testimonial component.

    This approach accords with each of our post-Schmerber cases finding that a particular oral or written response to express or implied questioning was nontestimonial; the questions presented in these cases did not confront the suspects with this trilemma. As we noted in Doe, 487 U.S., at 210-211, the cases upholding compelled writing and voice exemplars did not involve situations in which suspects were asked to communicate any personal beliefs or knowledge of facts, and therefore the suspects were not forced to choose between truthfully or falsely revealing their thoughts. We carefully noted in Gilbert v. California, 388 U.S. 263 (1967), for example, that a "mere handwriting exemplar, in contrast to the content of what is written, like the voice or body itself, is an identifying physical characteristic outside [the privilege's] protection." Id., at 266-267 (emphasis added). Had the suspect been asked to provide a writing sample of his own composition, the content of the writing would have reflected his assertion of facts or beliefs and hence would have been testimonial; but in Gilbert "[n]o claim [was] made that the content of the exemplars was testimonial or communicative matter." Id., at 267.[fn12] And in Doe, the suspect was asked merely to sign a consent form waiving a privacy interest in foreign bank records. Because the consent form spoke in the hypothetical and did not identify any particular banks, accounts, or private records, the form neither "communicate[d] any factual assertions, implicit or explicit, [n]or convey[ed] any information to the Government." 487 U.S., at 215. We concluded, therefore, that compelled execution of the consent directive did not "forc[e] [the suspect] to express the contents of his mind," id., at 210, n.9, but rather forced the suspect only to make a "nonfactual statement." Id., at 213, n.11.

    In contrast, the sixth birthday question in this case required a testimonial response. When Officer Hosterman asked Muniz if he knew the date of his sixth birthday and Muniz, for whatever reason, could not remember or calculate that date, he was confronted with the trilemma. By hypothesis, the inherently coercive environment created by the custodial interrogation precluded the option of remaining silent, see n.10, supra. Muniz was left with the choice of incriminating himself by admitting that he did not then know the date of his sixth birthday, or answering untruthfully by reporting a date that he did not then believe to be accurate (an incorrect guess would be incriminating as well as untruthful). The content of his truthful answer supported an inference that his mental faculties were impaired, because his assertion (he did not know the date of his sixth birthday) was different from the assertion (he knew the date was [correct date]) that the trier of fact might reasonably have expected a lucid person to provide. Hence, the incriminating inference of impaired mental faculties stemmed, not just from the fact that Muniz slurred his response, but also from a testimonial aspect of that response.[fn13] " Arizona v. Mauro, 481 U.S. 520, 526 (1987). In Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980), the Court defined the phrase "functional equivalent" of express questioning to include "any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect. The latter portion of this definition focuses primarily upon the perceptions of the suspect, rather than the intent of the police." Id., at 301 (footnotes omitted); see also Illinois v. Perkins, U.S. , (1990). However, "[a]ny knowledge the police may have had concerning the unusual susceptibility of a defendant to a particular form of persuasion might be an important factor in determining" what the police reasonably should have known. Innis, supra, at 302, n.8. Thus, custodial interrogation for purposes of Miranda includes both express questioning, and also words or actions that, given the officer's knowledge of any special susceptibilities of the suspect, the officer knows or reasonably should know are likely to "have ... the force of a question on the accused," Harryman v. Estelle, 616 F. 2d 870, 874 (CA5 1980), and therefore be reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.

    We disagree with the Commonwealth's contention that Officer Hosterman's first seven questions regarding Muniz's name, address, height, weight, eye color, date of birth, and current age do not qualify as custodial interrogation as we defined the term in Innis, supra, merely because the questions were not intended to elicit information for investigatory purposes. As explained above, the Innis test focuses primarily upon "the perspective of the suspect." Perkins, supra, at . We agree with amicus United States, however, that Muniz's answers to these first seven questions are nonetheless admissible because the questions fall within a "routine booking question" exception which exempts from Miranda's coverage questions to secure the "biographical data necessary to complete booking or pretrial services." Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae 12, quoting United States v. Horton, 873 F. 2d 180, 181, n.2 (CA8 1989). The state court found that the first seven questions were "requested for record-keeping purposes only," App. B16, and therefore the questions appear reasonably related to the police's administrative concerns.[fn14] In this context, therefore, the first seven questions asked at the Booking Center fall outside the protections of Miranda and the answers thereto need not be suppressed.