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Pennsylvania Court Discusses When Miranda Warnings are Necessary in a DUI Case

It is widely known that the Constitution grants criminal defendants rights against self-incrimination. In other words, a defendant cannot be compelled to make incriminating statements. In many instances, even if a defendant makes statements that would tend to indicate guilt, the statements may be precluded at trial, if the defendant was not properly advised of his or her rights prior to making the statements. The standard for determining when incriminating statements should be precluded were recently discussed in a DUI case in which the defendant was convicted, in part, based on statements he made prior to receiving a Miranda warning. If you are faced with DUI charges, and you made statements to the police during their investigation, it is prudent to meet with a knowledgeable Pennsylvania DUI defense attorney regarding what defenses you may be able to assert to avoid a conviction.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

It is reported that the defendant was questioned by a police officer after another driver reported that the defendant was allowing his minor daughter to drive and that the defendant was driving erratically. When the police officer approached the defendant’s vehicle, the defendant had a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and was sluggish and uncooperative. The defendant told the officer he was driving and denied his daughter drove the vehicle. The officer then told the defendant that he knew the defendant had a suspended license but had been driving the vehicle regardless, after which the defendant changed his story and denied operating the vehicle. The defendant was arrested, and a blood test revealed his BAC to be .228%.

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with numerous crimes, including DUI. He was convicted of all charges. The defendant then appealed, arguing, among other things, that the trial court erred in refusing to grant his motion to suppress the statements he made to the officer prior to receiving a Miranda warning.

Determining if the Police Violated a Defendant’s Right Against Self-Incrimination

Under Pennsylvania law, statements obtained during a custodial interrogation cannot be used against a person charged with a crime, unless the prosecution can show that the person was properly advised of his or her Miranda rights prior to making the statements. The Miranda warnings must be administered when a person in custody is expressly questioned, or the person is subjected to the functional equivalent of custodial interrogation.

Spontaneous statements may be admissible without Miranda warnings, however. Rather, in assessing whether a Miranda warning is necessary, the court must consider the circumstances as a whole, including the reason the defendant was detained, the length of the detainment, and the location of the detainment. The court will also consider whether force was used and the method of investigation. In the subject case, the court found that while the officer’s actions were not confrontational, the defendant was nonetheless subjected to custodial interrogation. In other words, a person in the defendant’s position would not have reasonably believed he or she was free to leave. Thus, the court found that the trial court erred in admitting the defendant’s pre- Miranda statements. The court found the error to be harmless, however and affirmed the jury’s verdict.

Discuss Your Charges with a Trusted DUI Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a DUI offense in Pennsylvania, it is advisable to discuss your charges with a trusted attorney to assess what evidence the prosecution may attempt to use against you at trial. Attorney Zachary B. Cooper is a diligent DUI defense attorney who will work tirelessly to help you seek the best results available under the facts surrounding your charges.  Mr. Cooper can be reached through the online form or at (215) 542-0800 to schedule a free and confidential conference.