Custodial and civilian interrogations

Here is a link to CAAF’s new decision in United States v. Chatfield.  The opinion is valuable for three issues:  what is custody, what is coercion, and a reminder to consider jointness of military and civilian investigations. 

When does a superiors words of actions create a custodial interrogation situation or make a person’s waiver of rights coercive?

[T]he Supreme Court defined custodial interrogation as “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.”  To answer the question whether an accused is in custody for purposes of Miranda, we consider “all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation” to determine “how a reasonable person in the position of the [accused] would gauge the breadth of his or her freedom of action.” Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322, 325 (1994) (quotation marks omitted).

The Supreme Court has stated that two inquiries are essential to a custody determination: “first, what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation; and second, given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave.” Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112. We consider the facts
objectively in the context of a reasonable person’s perception when situated in Appellant’s position. See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442 (1984) (holding that a policeman’s subjective belief did not bear on whether an accused was in custody).

To be considered in custody for purposes of Miranda, a reasonable person in Appellant’s position must have believed he or she was restrained in a “formal arrest or restraint on
freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest.” California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125 (1983) (per curiam) (quotation marks and citation omitted). As an initial matter, there is no per se rule that whenever a suspect appears at a police station for questioning, the suspect is therefore in custody. See id. (“[W]e have explicitly recognized that Miranda warnings are not required ‘simply because the questioning takes place in the station house.’” (quoting Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495 (1977))). The Supreme Court has looked to several factors when determining whether a person has been restrained, including: (1) whether the person appeared for questioning voluntarily; (2) the location and atmosphere of the place in which questioning occurred, and (3) the length of the questioning. See Mathiason, 429 U.S. at 495

What types of “circumstances” need to be considered for “coercive” interrogations?

When introducing a confession, the Government has the burden of showing “the confession is the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice by its maker.”
Bubonics, [45 M.J. 93, 94 (C.A.A.F. 1996)]. We review the totality of the circumstances to determine whether Appellant’s “will was overborne and his capacity for self-determination was critically impaired.” Id. The factors to consider include “‘both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation.’” Id. (quoting Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226 (1973)).

If both the military and civilians are investigating an allegation, at what point – if at all – do they become joint so that Article 31, UCMJ, applies?

For military judges, the case serves a reminder that they should make findings of fact on the record about the demeanor, believability, and credibility of witnesses as she hears and evaluates their testimony.  While appellate courts will usually state that the MJ had the ability to see and hear the witnesses, it really helps when there is record evidence of the MJ’s personal observations.

Contact Information