Constitutional law - in-home interrogation in a police-dominated atmosphere ruled custodial requiring Miranda warnings - United States v. Craighead.

Author:Vallarelli, Steven

The United States Constitution protects suspects of criminal investigations against coerced self-incrimination. (1) The United States Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement officers must notify suspects of these constitutional rights prior to any custodial interrogation. (2) A suspect is considered "in custody" if he is either officially taken into police custody or significantly deprived of his freedom of movement. (3) In United States v. Craighead, (4) the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was faced with the question of whether an in-home interrogation of a suspect in a police-dominated environment was "custodial" and required a reading of a suspect's rights as guaranteed by Miranda v. Arizona (5) The court ruled that where a suspect's home has become a police-dominated environment, the subsequent interrogation is custodial and Miranda warnings are required. (6)

On July 13, 2004, Special Agent Robin Andrews ("SA Andrews") of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") conducted undercover surveillance of a peer-to-peer file-sharing network in an attempt to uncover online distribution of child pornography. (7) SA Andrews successfully downloaded two images of "prepubescent females in sexually explicit positions" from an individual user with a specific IP address by using search terms associated with child pornography. (8) SA Andrews subsequently traced the IP address to Ernest Craighead's ("Craighead") residence on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, and obtained a warrant to search the home on July 26, 2004. (9)

SA Andrews executed the search warrant at 8:40 A.M. on July 27, 2004, accompanied by seven other law enforcement officers from three different agencies. (10) Upon entering the home, she introduced herself to Craighead and informed him that: (1) he was not under arrest; (2) he was free to leave; and (3) any statements he made were voluntary. (11) SA Andrews and Detective Jeff Englander then brought Craighead to a storage shed behind the house, escorted him inside, locked the door, and proceeded to question him for twenty to thirty minutes. (12) Craighead was never read his Miranda rights and he eventually admitted to downloading and storing child pornography. (13)

Craighead was indicted three months later in district court for: (1) transportation and shipping of child pornography; and (2) possession of child pornography. (14) In February 2006, Craighead filed a motion to suppress evidence illegally seized pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, (15) and a motion to suppress statements taken in violation of Miranda. (16) The district court denied both motions and Craighead entered a conditional guilty plea to both counts that preserved his right to appeal the district court's denial of his Franks and Miranda motions on August 7, 2006. (17) He was sentenced to 78 months of imprisonment followed by supervised release for life. (18) On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Craighead's Franks motion but reversed the district court's denial of the Miranda motion. (19)

The rights against self-incrimination enshrined in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution are a fundamental part of the American criminal justice system. (20) However, prior to Miranda, law enforcement officers often intruded on or completely disregarded suspects' constitutional protections against self-incrimination. (21) Officers routinely used physical and psychological abuse during incommunicado interrogations to extract confessions that were later used in court to prosecute defendants. (22)

The United States Supreme Court finally addressed the use of such illegal tactics in Miranda by requiring law enforcement to follow specific procedural measures to ensure every suspect understands his constitutional rights prior to questioning. (23) The Court found that most instances of Fifth Amendment violations shared similar characteristics--namely, isolated interrogation in a police dominated atmosphere. (24) Therefore, a suspect who was advised of his rights to remain silent and to stop the interrogation would be less likely to crack under pressure and confess. (25) These protective measures are required when a suspect is either officially in police custody, or "otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way." (26)

An in-home interrogation of a suspect by law enforcement does not automatically require Miranda warnings because it is not per se custodial. (27) In fact, courts are generally less inclined to find in-home interrogations custodial because there is less concern over compulsion when the suspect is questioned in familiar surroundings. (28) Most courts, however, have looked to whether the environment was "police-dominated" to determine the nature of the in-home interrogation because such an environment could likely lead to the type of coerced self-incrimination Miranda sought to prevent. (29)

In United States v. Craighead, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit faced the issue of whether a suspect, interrogated by law-enforcement officers in his own home, was in custody and, therefore, entitled to a reading of his Miranda warnings. (30) The court looked to the spirit of Miranda for guidance, and concluded that the inquiry should focus on the extent to which Craighead's once comfortable home had become a "police-dominated environment." (31) The Ninth Circuit recognized the difficulty of establishing a bright line rule for such fact intensive cases; therefore, it identified four factors relevant in determining the nature of an in-home interrogation: (1) the number of law enforcement personnel; (2) restraint of the suspect through physical or psychological means; (3) isolation of the suspect; and (4) whether the suspect was informed he was free to leave and/or questioning was voluntary. (32)

With regard to the number of law enforcement officers, the court found that a reasonable person in Craighead's position would have felt his home had become a police-dominated environment due to the presence of eight officers from three different agencies, some with their weapons drawn and wearing flack jackets. (33) The Ninth Circuit noted that Craighead was never handcuffed; however, the court concluded an objective, reasonable person in Craighead's situation would have felt his freedom of movement was significantly restrained. (34) Addressing the issue of isolation, the court found the secluded nature of Craighead's interrogation amounted to custody, reasoning that a suspect is more likely to be compelled to confess when cut off from the support of family and friends. (35) Regarding the final factor, the court recognized that a suspect is less likely to reasonably believe he is in custody where officers inform him that he is not, though these statements must be viewed in the context of the situation. (36) The Ninth Circuit found a reasonable person in Craighead's position could have believed he was not free to leave despite statements by law enforcement to the contrary. (37) Although SA Andrews had advised Craighead he was free to leave, the court credited Craighead's testimony that the presence of agents from three different agencies made him doubt whether SA Andrews had authority to let him go. (38) After analyzing the four factors of its benchmark test, the Ninth Circuit concluded that, while SA Andrews' advisement to Craighead could be evidence of non-custody, the number of law enforcement agents present, coupled with the restrained and isolated nature of the interrogation, turned Craighead's home into a police-dominated environment requiring Miranda warnings. (39)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit correctly applied Miranda to the case at bar by recognizing that a suspect's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is as vulnerable during an inhome interrogation as in any other police-dominated setting. (40) The court was keenly aware of the unscrupulous police tactics that led to the Miranda decision and, through its analysis of the four relevant factors, effectively addressed the Supreme Court's general concerns regarding coerced self-incrimination in the specific setting of a suspect's home. (41) The Ninth Circuit wisely noted the unique nature of an interrogation conducted in the...

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