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Justices reverse suppression of man’s admission to driving under the influence

March 3, 2017

The Indiana Supreme Court has reversed a motion to suppress evidence of a man’s admission to driving under the influence at a sobriety checkpoint, holding that the brief and public nature of the checkpoint did not require police officers to give the man a Miranda warning.

In the case of State of Indiana v. David Brown, 49S05-1606-CR-348, David Brown, who was driving a motorcycle, was stopped as part of an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department field sobriety checkpoint and was ultimately arrested after officers observed that he had red, watery eyes, struggled to retrieve his license, slurred his speech and smelled like alcohol. Further, Brown admitted to officers that he had been drinking.

The state charged Brown with Class C misdemeanors operating while intoxicated and operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of at least .08 but less than .15 grams per 210 liters of breath. During a bench trial, Brown’s counsel asked an officer if he had Mirandized Brown before asking him if he had been drinking, and the officer indicated that he had not done so and further indicated that Brown was not free to go when the question was asked.

Based off that testimony, Brown’s counsel objected, holding that the officer had committed a Miranda violation. The state, however, argued that a Miranda warning was not necessary because the sobriety checkpoint was not a custodial situation.

The Marion Superior Court ultimately granted Brown’s motion to suppress, prompting the state’s initial appeal to the Court of Appeals. The appellate panel dismissed the appeal after determining sua sponte that the state had no statutory authority to appeal because Brown never filed a written motion to suppress.

After agreeing to hear the case in June, the Indiana Supreme Court held in a Thursday opinion that Indiana Code 35-38-4-2(5) permits the state to bring its appeal because the grant of Brown’s motion to suppress had the effect of precluding further prosecution in the case.

Justice Steve David, writing for the court, noted that although Brown initially raised the Miranda through an oral objection, he eventually filed a “Memorandum of Law in Support of a Motion to Suppress.” Because the suppression order was so broad as to including “’any statements by (Brown) as well as any evidence obtained thereafter,’” the order “effectively excludes all evidence the State would need to prove these charges,” David wrote.

Further, the justices held that under Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439-40 (1984), the sobriety checkpoint did not trigger a Miranda warning because it was temporary and brief in nature and public. Specifically, the officers were working in a well-lit Arby’s parking lot and were instructed that they had only two minutes to discern impairment, thus meeting the Berkemer requirements.

“This is not to say that there cannot be a set of circumstances where a detention as part of a sobriety checkpoint is so lengthy and/or private that it triggers Miranda,” David wrote. “However, looking at the circumstances in this case, including the short duration of the stop and the public nature of it, we cannot say that Brown was in custody for Miranda purposes.”

Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result with the majority, writing in a separate opinion that he believes motorists detained at sobriety checkpoints are entitled to Miranda protection. However, Rucker acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court “has declined to expand Miranda’s reach to cases involving routine traffic stops and its reasoning is applicable to the case before us.”

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