Rhode Island v. Innis

United States Supreme Court

446 U.S. 291, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 64 L.Ed.2d 297 (1980)


Here the Supreme Court considers whether the defendant was “interrogated” in violation of the standards announced in Miranda v. Arizona.


Mr. Justice Stewart delivered the opinion of the Court.


... On the night of January 12, 1975, John Mulvaney, a Providence, R.I., taxicab driver, disappeared after being dispatched to pick up a customer. His body was discovered four days later buried in a shallow grave in Coventry, R.I. He had died from a shotgun blast aimed at the back of his head.


On January 17, 1975, shortly after midnight, the Providence police received a telephone call from Gerald Aubin, also a taxicab driver, who reported that he had just been robbed by a man wielding a sawed-off shotgun. Aubin further reported that he had dropped off his assailant near Rhode Island College in a section of Providence known as Mount Pleasant. While at the Providence police station waiting to give a statement, Aubin noticed a picture of his assailant on a bulletin board. Aubin so informed one of the police officers present. The officer prepared a photo array, and again Aubin identified a picture of the same person. That person was the respondent. Shortly thereafter, the Providence police began a search of the Mount Pleasant area.


At approximately 4:30 a.m. on the same date, Patrolman Lovell, while cruising the streets of Mount Pleasant in a patrol car, spotted the respondent standing in the street facing him. Patrolman Lovell did not converse with the respondent other than to respond to the latter’s request for a cigarette.


Within minutes, Sergeant Sears arrived at the scene of the arrest, and he also gave the respondent the Miranda warnings. Immediately thereafter, Captain Leyden and other police officers arrived. Captain Leyden advised the respondent of his Miranda rights. The respondent stated that he understood those rights and wanted to speak with a lawyer. Captain Leyden then directed that the respondent be placed in a “caged wagon,” a four-door police car with a wire screen mesh between the front and rear seats, and be driven to the central police station. Three officers, Patrolmen Gleckman, Williams, and McKenna, were assigned to accompany the respondent to the central station. They placed the respondent in the vehicle and shut the doors. Captain Leyden then instructed the officers not to question the respondent or intimidate or coerce him in any way. The three officers then entered the vehicle, and it departed.


While en route to the central station, Patrolman Gleckman initiated a conversation with Patrolman McKenna concerning the missing shotgun. As Patrolman Gleckman later testified: “At this point, I was talking back and forth with Patrolman McKenna stating that I frequent this area while on patrol and [that because a school for handicapped children is located nearby,] there’s a lot of handicapped children running around in this area, and God forbid one of them might find a weapon with shells and they might hurt themselves.” ...


Patrolman McKenna apparently shared his fellow officer’s concern: “I more or less concurred with him [Gleckman] that this was a safety factor and that we should, you know, continue to search for the weapon and try to find it.”...


While Patrolman Williams said nothing, he overheard the conversation between the two officers: “He [Gleckman] said it would be too bad if the little---I believe he said a girl---would pick up the gun, maybe kill herself.” …


The respondent then interrupted the conversation, stating that the officers should turn the car around so he could show them where the gun was located. At this point, Patrolman McKenna radioed back to Captain Leyden that they were returning to the scene of the arrest, and that the respondent would inform them of the location of the gun. At the time the respondent indicated that the officers should turn back, they had traveled no more than a mile, a trip encompassing only a few minutes.


The police vehicle then returned to the scene of the arrest where a search for the shotgun was in progress. There, Captain Leyden again advised the respondent of his Miranda rights. The respondent replied that he understood those rights but that he “wanted to get the gun out of the way because of the kids in the area in the school.” The respondent then led the police to a nearby field, where he pointed out the shotgun under some rocks by the side of the road.


On March 20, 1975, a grand jury returned an indictment charging the respondent with the kidnaping, robbery, and murder of John Mulvaney. Before trial, the respondent moved to suppress the shotgun and the statements he had made to the police regarding it. After an evidentiary hearing at which the respondent elected not to testify, the trial judge found that the respondent had been “repeatedly and completely advised of his Miranda rights.” He further found that it was “entirely understandable that [the officers in the police vehicle] would voice their concern [for the safety of the handicapped children] to each other.” The judge then concluded that the respondent’s decision to inform the police of the location of the shotgun was “a waiver, clearly, and on the basis of the evidence that I have heard, and [sic] intelligent waiver, of his [Miranda] right to remain silent.” Thus, without passing on whether the police officers had in fact “interrogated” the respondent, the trial court sustained the admissibility of the shotgun and testimony related to its discovery. That evidence was later introduced at the respondent’s trial, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts.


... In the present case, the parties are in agreement that the respondent was fully informed of his Miranda rights and that he invoked his Miranda right to counsel when he told Captain Leyden that he wished to consult with a lawyer. It is also uncontested that the respondent was “in custody” while being transported to the police station.


The issue, therefore, is whether the respondent was “interrogated” by the police officers in violation of the respondent’s undisputed right under Miranda to remain silent until he had consulted with a lawyer. In resolving the issue, we first define the term “interrogation” under Miranda before turning to a consideration of the facts of this case.


The starting point for defining “interrogation” in this context is, of course, the Court’s Miranda opinion. There the Court observed that “[b]y custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person had been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.” ... This passage and other references throughout the opinion to “questioning” might suggest that the Miranda rules were to apply only to those police interrogation practices that involve express questioning of a defendant while in custody.


We do not, however, construe the Miranda opinion so narrowly. The concern of the Court in Miranda was that the “interrogation environment” created by interplay of interrogation and custody would “subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner” and thereby undermine the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination. ... The police practices that evoked this concern included several that did not involve express questioning. For example, one of the practices discussed in Miranda was the use of line-ups in which a coached witness would pick the defendant as the perpetrator. This was designed to establish that the defendant was in fact guilty as a predicate for further interrogation. ... A variation on this theme discussed in Miranda was the so-called “reverse line-up” in which a defendant would be identified by coached witnesses as the perpetrator of a fictitious crime, with the object of inducing him to confess to the actual crime of which he was suspected in order to escape the false prosecution. ... The Court in Miranda also included in its survey of interrogation practices the use of psychological ploys, such as to “posi[t]” “the guilt of the subject,” to “minimize the moral seriousness of the offense,” and “to cast blame on the victim or on society.” ... It is clear that these techniques of persuasion, no less than express questioning, were thought, in a custodial setting, to amount to interrogation.


... We conclude that the Miranda safeguards come into play whenever a person in custody is subjected to either express questioning or its functional equivalent. That is to say, the term “interrogation” under Miranda refers not only to express questioning, but also to any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect. The latter portion of this definition focuses primarily upon the perceptions of the suspect, rather than the intent of the police. This focus reflects the fact that the Miranda safeguards were designed to vest a suspect in custody with an added measure of protection against coercive police practices, without regard to objective proof of the underlying intent of the police. A practice that the police should know is reasonably likely to evoke an incriminating response from a suspect thus amounts to interrogation. But, since the police surely cannot be held accountable for the unforeseeable results of their words or actions, the definition of interrogation can extend only to words or actions on the part of police officers that they should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.


Turning to the facts of the present case, we conclude that the respondent was not “interrogated” within the meaning of Miranda. It is undisputed that the first prong of the definition of “interrogation” was not satisfied, for the conversation between Patrolman Gleckman and McKenna included no express questioning of the respondent. Rather, that conversation was, at least in form, nothing more than a dialogue between the two officers to which no response from the respondent was invited.


Moreover, it cannot be fairly concluded that the respondent was subjected to the “functional equivalent” of questioning. It cannot be said, in short, that Patrolman Gleckman and McKenna should have known that their conversation was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the respondent. There is nothing in the record to suggest that the officers were aware that the respondent was peculiarly susceptible to an appeal to his conscience concerning the safety of handicapped children. Nor is there anything in the record to suggest that the police knew that the respondent was unusually disoriented or upset at the time of his arrest.


The case thus boils down to whether, in the context of a brief conversation, the officers should have known that the respondent would suddenly be moved to make a self-incriminating response. Given the fact that the entire conversation appears to have consisted of no more than a few offhand remarks, we cannot say that the officers should have known that it was reasonably likely that Innis would so respond. This is not a case where the police carried on a lengthy harangue in the presence of the suspect. Nor does the record support the respondent’s contention that, under the circumstances, the officers’ comments were particularly “evocative.” It is our view, therefore that the respondent was not subjected by the police to words or actions that the police should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from him.


For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island is vacated, and the case is remanded to the court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion….



Mr. Justice White, concurring. ...



Mr. Chief Justice Burger, concurring in the judgment. ...



Mr. Justice Marshall, with whom Mr. Justice Brennan joins, dissenting.


I am substantially in agreement with the Court’s definition of “interrogation” within the meaning of Miranda v. Arizona ... (1966). In my view, the Miranda safeguards apply whenever police conduct is intended or likely to produce a response from a suspect in custody. As I read the Court’s opinion, its definition of “interrogation” for Miranda purposes is equivalent, for practical purposes, to my formulation, since it contemplates that “where a police practice is designed to elicit an incriminating response from the accused, it is unlikely that the practice will not also be one which the police should have known was reasonably likely to have that effect. ... Thus, the Court requires an objective inquiry into the likely effect the police conduct on a typical individual, taking into account any special susceptibility of the suspect to certain kinds of pressure of which the police know or have reason to know.


I am utterly at a loss, however, to understand how this objective standard as applied to the facts before us can rationally lead to the conclusion that there was no interrogation. Innis was arrested at 4:30 a.m., handcuffed, searched, advised of his rights, and placed in the back seat of a patrol car. Within a short time he had been twice more advised of his rights and driven away in a four-door sedan with three police officers. Two officers sat in the front seat and one sat beside Innis in the back seat. Since the car traveled no more than a mile before Innis agreed to point out the location of the murder weapon, Officer Gleckman must have begun almost immediately to talk about the search for the shotgun.


The Court attempts to characterize Gleckman’s statements as “no more than a few offhand remarks” which could not reasonably have been expected to elicit a response. ... If the statements had been addressed to respondent, it would be impossible to draw such a conclusion. The simple message of the “talking back and forth” between Gleckman and McKenna was that they had to find the shotgun to avert a child’s death.


One can scarcely imagine a stronger appeal to the conscience of a suspect---any suspect---than the assertion that if the weapon is not found an innocent person will be hurt or killed. An not just any innocent person, but an innocent child---a little girl---a helpless, handicapped little girl on her way to school. The notion that such an appeal could not be expected to have any effect unless the suspect were known to have some special interest in handicapped children verges on the ludicrous. As a matter of fact, the appeal to a suspect to confess for the sake of others, to “display some evidence of decency and honor,” is a classic interrogation technique. ...


Gleckman’s remark would obviously have constituted interrogation if they had been explicitly directed to respondent, and the result should not be different because they were nominally addressed to McKenna. This is not a case where police officers speaking among themselves are accidentally overheard by a suspect. These officers were “talking back and forth” in close quarters with the handcuffed suspect, traveling past the very place where they believed the weapon was located. They knew respondent would hear and attend to their conversation, and they are chargeable with knowledge of and responsibility for the pressures to speak which they created.


I firmly believe that this case is simply an aberration, and that in future cases the Court will apply the standard adopted today in accordance with its plain meaning.



Mr. Justice Stevens, dissenting. ...