475 U.S. 1144 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

MAINE v. THIBODEAU , 475 U.S. 1144 (1986)

475 U.S. 1144

No. 85-744

Supreme Court of the United States

April 28, 1986

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

The motion of respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Chief Justice BURGER, dissenting.

John Tower's brother reported him missing on October 27, 1983; his mother told police that he had last been seen taking respondent Jay Thibodeau for a test drive in his car that he had for sale. On the morning of October 28, police officers went to the Thibodeau apartment where they spoke with respondent in the presence of his parents for about 10 minutes. Respondent told police that he and Tower had gone for a test drive the previous day, after which Tower dropped him off at home. [ Maine v. Thibodeau 475 U.S. 1144 (1986) ][1144-Continued.]

Two police officers returned to the Thibodeau household that afternoon and asked respondent to show them the route he and Tower had taken the day before. Respondent agreed and got into the backseat of the police car, a two-door automobile. For about an hour and a half the three retraced the complicated route respondent described to the police, after which respondent was returned home. At no time did respondent ask to leave the car. At one point in the journey respondent asked if he was a suspect. The police stated that he had been the last person seen with the victim, to which respondent replied, "Well, I guess I am."

Two days later police found John Tower's body, shot in the head with a .22-caliber rifle. The next day, police discovered that respondent had traded in his .22-caliber rifle for another gun. Police arrested respondent on November 1. After waiving his Miranda rights, respondent confessed to the killing.

At trial respondent moved to suppress his statements to the police on the morning and afternoon of October 28 on the ground that he was subjected to custodial interrogations without the necessary Miranda warnings. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the statements were "voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt" and that "the circumstances did not constitute custodial interrogation" because respondent had willingly cooperated with the police in generally noncoercive settings.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, three justices dissenting, reversed respondent's murder conviction on the ground that the afternoon session with police constituted a custodial interrogation requiring Miranda warnings. 496 A.2d 635 (Me.1985). The court listed the following criteria for determining whether there had

Page 475 U.S. 1144 , 1145

been a custodial interrogation: (1) the locale where the statements were made; (2) the party initiating the contact; (3) the existence or nonexistence of probable cause to arrest; (4) the subjective intent of the police; (5) the subjective belief of the defendant; and (6) the focus of the investigation. Applying these factors to this case, the court noted that the officers' suspicions had "increased dramatically since the morning" and that, although no crime had yet been detected, respondent "was the only suspect." Id., at 639. Furthermore, a reasonable person would have felt, as did respondent, that he had no choice but to accompany the officers. Finally, by placing him in the backseat of a two-door automobile, police had deprived him of his freedom in a significant way.

This decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court illustrates an acute need for clarification of the proper factors to be considered in making the "in custody" determination-a clarification perhaps made necessary by our own lack of clarity as to the standards to be applied. However, four of the six factors enumerated by the Maine court have been rejected by either this Court or other state and federal courts.

(1) We plainly rejected the relevancy of the "subjective intent of the police" in Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442, 3152 (1984), where we stated "[a] policeman's unarticulated plan has no bearing on the question whether a suspect was 'in custody' at a particular time."

(2) In Beckwith v. United States, 425 U.S. 341, 48 L. Ed.2d 1 (1976), we held that whether police suspicion had focused upon the defendant has no bearing whatever on the "in custody" determination: " 'It was the compulsive aspect of custodial interrogation, and not the strength or content of the government's suspicions at the time the questioning was conducted, which led the Court to impose the Miranda requirements with regard to custodial questioning.' " Id., at 346-347-1617 (quoting United States v. Caiello, 420 F.2d 471, 473 ( CA2 1969)). See also People v. Black, 698 P.2d 766 (Colo.1984) (trial court erred in suppressing evidence by considering whether the police's investigation had "focused" on the defendant). Cf. Green v. Superior Court, 40 Cal.3d 126, 219 Cal.Rptr. 186, 707 P.2d 248 (1985) (lack of police suspicion dispositive).

(3) The Ninth Circuit has held that the existence of probable cause at the time of the interrogation is similarly irrelevant. See United States v. Woods, 720 F.2d 1022 (CA9 1983). [475 U.S. 1144 , 1146]

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