Arizona Supreme Court ruling: Police questioning of man without Miranda was OK

Posted at 4:43 PM, Jul 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-29 19:52:01-04

Non-threatening circumstances allowed a man's incriminating statements to police to be used against him even though he wasn't initially given a Miranda warning and wouldn't have felt free to just walk away, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The appeal from a Yuma County case centered on whether a homeless man sitting outside a vacant building and later convicted of burglarizing it was legally in custody when a police officer questioned him before later arresting him and only then giving him a Miranda warning.

Miranda warnings tell people about their constitutional rights to not incriminate themselves and to have an attorney present before they can be interrogated while in custody. The warnings resulted from a landmark 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Arizona case.

In the Yuma case, an officer who responded to a call about a possible burglary asked Carlos Andrews Maciel to first sit in the officer's car and then on a nearby curb. Maciel initially said he didn't know how a board covering a window was removed but then, while sitting on the curb, said he'd removed the board and entered the building to look for money.

A short time later, after Maciel was arrested and handcuffed and after two officers searched the building, he was advised of his Miranda rights and again made the incriminating statements.

Defense attorneys sought unsuccessfully to keep the statements out of evidence, Maciel was convicted of third-degree burglary and given a probation term that included 30 days in jail.

Maciel's appeal argued that his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination were violated because police questioned him while in custody without reading him his Miranda rights.

However, circumstances in the case meant Maciel wasn't in custody for Miranda purposes even though "no reasonable person would have felt free to simply walk away," Chief Justice Scott Bales wrote in the opinion.

Those circumstances included that Maciel was questioned in public, the on-scene investigation lasted less than an hour and that the man wasn't threatened or taken elsewhere to be questioned, Bales said.

And those circumstances in the Yuma case didn't amount to the "coercive pressures" used in Phoenix police questioning of Ernesto Miranda, Bales said.

While Friday's ruling cited previous state and federal court decisions on Miranda implementation issues, the justices said they considered Maciel's appeal "because the proper standard for determining if someone is in custody for Miranda purposes is a recurring issue of statewide importance."

Edward McGee, a deputy public defender representing Maciel in the appeal, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling Friday.