Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"When the mother's talk . . ." Miranda Doesn't Apply

US v. Kimbrough: Baltimore police received information that two men were dealing drugs in front of a specific home. Surveillance confirmed that information. Officers approached the men and asked if they lived at the residence. They replied that they were guests of the homeowner, Ms. Kimbrough (defendant's mother). The officers found Ms. Kimbrough and obtained consent to search the home from her, after she denied any knowledge of drugs being inside. After hearing a noise from the basement, officers went there and found Kimbrough (the defendant) cutting cocaine. Kimbrough was arrested. At that point, the officers called Ms. Kimbrough down to the basement to show her what they found. She confronted her son, asking "what is this?" and "is there anything down here?" An officer recited the Miranda warnings and Kimbrough agreed to speak without an attorney. Kimbrough answered his mother that he had a gun stuffed under a couch cushion. Kimbrough was charged with possession of a stolen firearm, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm in connection with another felony offense.

Kimbrough moved to suppress his statements made in response to his mother's questioning in the basement. The district court granted the motion, holding that the Miranda warnings that were given were ineffective and that the officers used Ms. Kimbrough as a proxy to question her son. The district court concluded, "Detective Himes . . . quite candidly in his testimony, [said that] she did his questioning for him, that is, Miss Kimbrough did the question that [O]fficer Himes otherwise would have done. So this was official interrogation." The court ordered Kimbrough's statements, but not the actual gun, suppressed. The Government appealed.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court and held that Kimbrough's statements could be used against him. Relying on Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980), and Arizona v. Mauro, 481 U.S. 520 (1987), the court held that Miranda was not implicated by questioning of a suspect by a family member, absent some indication that she was used as an interrogator for the police. There was no evidence to support that claim, the court held, noting that Ms. Kimbrough has non-law enforcement motives for confronting her son. Because the confrontation in the basement was not a custodial interrogation, Miranda was not implicated and any insufficiency of the warnings given was irrelevant.

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