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"Willing" Confession Not Entitled to Miranda warning, says Appeals Court

Conversation in waiting area

To benefit from a Miranda violation, an interrogation target must be “in custody.” The Iowa Court of Appeals in State v. Osborn, filed October 10, 2018, weighed what that term meant when a plain clothes detective drove an interrogation target, along with his parents, to the police station for an interrogation incident to the execution of a search warrant of his home.

In Osborn, the Iowa Court of Appeals found that the defendant voluntarily went to the police station with an unarmed plain clothes detective in an unmarked police car. The detective had to use her key card to get into the police station and interrogated the defendant in a special room for that purpose. The interrogation lasted about an hour and a half. It included at least two warnings that the defendant could end the interrogation at any time with the defendant acknowledging same. However, the defendant was unwell. Police asked his parents to wake him up upon their arrival to the home and he vomited into a waste basket at the police station.

In his interrogation, the court found that the defendant made incriminating statements regarding the possession of contraband images on his computer. He was subsequently charged with the possession of multiple counts of visual depiction of minors engaged in prohibited acts in violation of Iowa Code § 728.12(3). He moved to suppress the statements he made during the interrogation, alleging that he was not Mirandized and was in custody-- thus requiring the warning.

At issue in the case is the term “in custody.” The parties disagreed on whether the detective directed the defendant to come with her to the police station in her car. Police testified that they couldn’t interrogate the Osborn defendant at the house because it was too small and they couldn’t separate him from others. The detective testified at the suppression hearing that she merely had used language she considered routine in her practice, asking him whether he was “willing” to come to the police station to speak with her. The defendant viewed it as a command. According to the Court of Appeals decision, the defendant acknowledged, however, the detective may have used this “willing” language. After the interrogation, police drove the defendant back to his home.

The Court summoned now familiar Countryman factors in determining whether a defendant is in custody including:

1. the language used to summon the individual;

2. the purpose, place, and manner of interrogation;

3. the extent to which the defendant is confronted with evidence of her guilt;

4. whether the defendant is free to leave the place of questioning.

The Court gave weight to the fact that officers were in plain clothes and not uniformed, summoning a 1996 Iowa decision in Smith concluding the same. The Osborn Court specifically found that the defendant had stated that he was “willing” to come to the station.

The Court specifically found that the language used was not threatening, forceful, or coercive. The also Court found it significant that the defendant was not handcuffed on the way to the station.

“This demonstrates Osborn agreed to be interviewed at the police station and was not compelled to do so.”

Curiously, the court also found that “the purpose, place, and manner of the interview also militate against concluding Osborn was in custody,” even though the purpose of the interrogation was to secure incriminating statements, the place was an interrogation room at the police station, and the manner of the interview, at least from the Osborn decision, appears on its face not to have diverged from a classic interrogation otherwise in custody. In fact, nothing about the purpose, place, and manner of the interview appear to distinguish this non-custodial interrogation from a custodial interrogation. Nevertheless, the Court distinguished this interrogation from one in which a defendant could be found to be in custody.

Particularly harmful to the argument that the Osborn defendant was in custody were the Detective’s repeated warnings that he could stop the interrogation at any time. This on its face appears to be half of the required warning—you have a right to remain silent. However, it was not also accompanied with “you have a right to an attorney.”

The court did not address whether this was a partial and, thus, defective warning. Instead, it considered the admonitions to be a factor in determining whether the defendant was instead of out of custody.

“Where a suspect has been so advised, custody has frequently been found to not exist,” wrote the Court.

The Court held the detective did not confront the defendant with his guilt. Instead, she said, ““Anything you’ve done, on that computer, is going to be laid out crystal clear to anybody who wants to look at it.’” The Court interpreted the interrogation as “investigatory and not accusatory” and said it was mostly comprised of “open ended questions.” The court rested this non-accusatory conclusion on the premise that the detective did not actually have proof of the defendant’s guilt and so therefore could not confront him with it.

The court also examined the defendant’s claim that the fact finder, here a judge sitting in a bench trial, was required to find that the Osborn defendant viewed the contraband images in order to find that he possessed them. Because there was no such proof adduced at trial, argued the defendant, and the statute had been changed to require depictions rather than computers to address a previous case. The court examined the argument in the context of sufficiency of the evidence—allowing it to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. The court therefore found the argument was without merit, stating “[n]othing in the statutory change added an additional element of actual viewing to the statute.”

The defendant-appellant in this case is likely to seek additional levels of review by the Court of Appeals and, if those efforts are unfavorable, further review by the Iowa Supreme Court.

NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC has no involvement in the Osborn case.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a criminal offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free initial consultation. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending information to an attorney over the Internet does not result in an attorney-client relationship.

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