Miranda Rights in Prison Are No Lock

Miranda Rights in Prison Are No Lock

Howes, Warden v. Fields regarding custodial interrogation will have limited impact since it specifically relates to questioning of incarcerated inmates, it is nonetheless instructive as to the High Court’s continued intransience/resistance in expanding its seminal holding in Miranda v. Arizona. In Fields, SCOTUS essentially found "insufficient custody" for Miranda purposes where the inmate/petitioner was questioned about his alleged criminal activit[ies] prior to his incarceration for five to six hours by armed deputies, while seated in a prison conference room. The conference room door was "sometimes open" and other times shut, and on several occasions the petitioner said he did not want to answer any more questions. Moreover, he was required to wait in the conference room for twenty minutes after the interrogation had ended, before he was escorted by deputies back to his prison cell. According to SCOTUS, in spite of the absence of Miranda warnings in this case, imprisonment does not necessarily create a custodial situation for " Miranda purposes" (i.e., for Miranda to apply). As head-scratching as that conclusion may seem, the further suggestion that incarcerated persons don’t gauge their freedom in the way that those not yet restrained do because "questioning a person who is already incarcerated does not generally involve the shock that very often accompanies arrest; a prisoner is unlikely to be lured into speaking by a longing for prompt release; and a prisoner knows that his questioner probably lacks authority to affect the duration of his sentence" is even more of a stretch! Obviously, and not necessarily facetiously, the SCOTUS majority has not spent much time in jails or in prisons. Those who have (I once also served as Sheriff) understand well the inherently coercive atmosphere that exists behind bars, especially in terms of interactions with corrections personnel ( i.e., one’s jailers) which often results in "Yes, Sir! No, Sir!" types of relationships. In prison, lack of cooperation can, and does, lead to disciplinary action and disciplinary action can and does result in loss of day to day privileges, loss of accrued good time, segregation, and isolation. Moreover, the "institutionally adjusted" inmate quickly learns that getting up and walking away from authority in a highly regulated and structured environment is never a good idea. And with an all too real taste of prison, who’s to say that fear of receiving even more prison time as a result of new charges possibly being filed isn’t more compelling than anything? Now, I think it’s a mistake to read too much into Fields and as I said, its overall applicability remains limited. I doubt criminal defense attorneys like me will find much practical use from it, except further confirmation of what we already know: that SCOTUS is not only not going to be expanding Miranda any time soon, but may well be looking for opportunities to dial it back and narrow it down.