Appellate Court rules against DWI defendant on Miranda issue

Defendant appealed his conviction following a bench trial of the class B misdemeanor of driving while intoxicated.  The appellant’s sole point on appeal was that the trial court erred in overruling Defendant’s motion to suppress his statement that he had “a couple” or “a few” drinks.  The defendant/appellant argued that the statement was elicited without a Miranda warning.

The defendant was found by the officer on the scene in his vehicle, which was turned upside down along the road. He was removed by first responders. While in an ambulance and restrained by EMS, the officer asked the Defendant about whether he was drinking prior to the accident, to which the Defendant had replied “a couple” and “a few” drinks. The officer also stated that he smelled alcohol on his breath, the man slurred his speech, and beer cans some used and some full (and still cold) were found outside where the vehicle was. The officer then asked him to submit to a preliminary breath test to which the man consented and it showed he was positive for alcohol consumption. At this point, the officer read the Implied Consent law and then asked the Defendant to take his blood, to which he consented.  The blood test showed alcohol content above the legal limit. The Defendant’s attorney at trial filed a motion to suppress the Defendant’s statement but the trial court denied the motion to suppress the evidence.

The Eastern District, upon its review, affirmed the ruling and upheld the trial court’s decision to not suppress Defendant’s statements.  The Appellate Court held that because a reasonable person in Harris’s circumstances would not perceive himself to be subjected to a coercive custodial environment while restrained in a moving ambulance by paramedics for medical treatment following a motor vehicle accident, the Defendant was not in custody for purposes of suppressing his statement responding to the routine investigative questioning of the officer based on Miranda v. Arizona, 382 U.S. 435 (1966). 

Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying Harris’s motion to suppress his statement. 

This is an interesting decision because although he was restrained by the EMS workers, he was not restrained by law enforcement.  And Defendant could not reasonably believe it was law enforcement doing the restraining.  Case law dictates that once he is informed he is being arrested or once he is restrained by law enforcement, a Defendant is being taken into custody and must have his Miranda rights read to him.  In this case, he was being restrained for medical purposes, not law enforcement investigative purposes, and he would not reasonably believe he was being restrained by law enforcement.

The opinion was by Judge Kurt S. Odenwald, with Judges  Philip M. Hess, P.J., and Lisa P. Page, J. concurring.  Attorney for Appellant was Carol D. Jansen, and Attorney for Respondent was Rebecca Richardson.

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