Suspect Who Was Handcuffed Was Not Under Arrest

In an unpublished opinion, Myhre vs. Commissioner of Public Safety, filed June 6, 2011, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that Mark Myhre, despite being handcuffed by an officer, was not in police custody. Therefore, any questioning by the officer was not custodial and did not require a Miranda warning. This appeal stemmed from a challenge by Myhre of the district court’s order upholding the revocation of his driver’s license for operating a motor vehicle under the influence.

The incident began when Myhre tried to enter a private residence in Eagan he mistakenly believed belonged to his friend. The homeowner called the police, and a female police officer responded to the call. Upon her arrival, the officer found Myhre standing in the garage with the male homeowner. The parties did not know each other, and the police officer could tell there had been an argument. The female police officer, who is of smaller stature, handcuffed Myhre and moved him toward her squad car. At that time, the officer observed an odor of alcohol coming from Myhre, that his speech was slurred, and that he was having a hard time walking. The officer asked Myhre where he had been, and how much he had had to drink. Myhre said he was at a restaurant at the Mall of America where he had three glasses of wine. Upon further questioning by the officer, Myhre told her that he had driven himself to the residence.

A suspect who is in custody and subject to interrogation must be read his Miranda rights to protect himself against self-incrimination. A reading of a person’s Miranda rights ensures the suspect is aware that he does not have to answer any questions and that by doing so he may waiving his right against self-incrimination.

Minnesota courts have previously deliberated as to what constitutes “custody.” There is no hard and fast rule for determining if a person is in custody, but courts typically consider whether a reasonable person would believe they were under formal arrest. However, handcuffing, the courts have held, does not automatically constitute custody. For safety measures, an officer can handcuff a suspect and it does not necessarily constitute formal arrest. In addition, the Supreme Court in Miranda held that general questioning and inquiry as to what took place at a crime scene or incident does not require an officer to read a person his or her Miranda rights.

The Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s determination that Myhre was not in custody when he was handcuffed by the female officer. Due to the fact that the officer was a small female, responded to a report of an altercation alone, and two males were in a verbal argument when she arrived, the court found she was justified in handcuffing Myhre as a safety precaution. The officer’s further questioning was not found to be a custodial interrogation because Myhre was not in custody and the questioning was part of the officer’s investigation as to what had occurred. Therefore, the Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s order sustaining Myhre’s license revocation.

This opinion is concerning for the reason that it gives officers basis to handcuff anyone they encounter under the guise that it is a safety precaution. Though the district court notes the officer was small and female, the fact is that she is still a trained law enforcement officer. Even if she is responding alone, and feels she is warranted in handcuffing a suspect, the fact is any reasonable person would believe he or she was under arrest at that point. As such, if the officer felt is was necessary to handcuff the suspect, any questioning by the officer should have only proceeded after a Miranda warning. If the officer was worried about safety, she could have requested Myhre to get into the back of her squad car to discuss the incident with her. Arguably, a voluntary agreement to sit in the back of a squad car would have had less of an impression of an arrest as opposed to handcuffing a suspect. This opinion justifies the handcuffing of a suspect without the probable cause needed for an arrest. Essentially, under the pretense that it is for safety, it allows law enforcement personnel to skip ahead to arresting people before they have a legal basis to do so. Law enforcement officers have dangerous jobs where they encounter situations and people that are unpredictable; however, despite the holding in this case, handcuffing without a basis for arrest should not be warranted except in extreme circumstances. The fact that the rationale for handcuffing Myhre in this case was created by the officer herself as she was female and small does not necessitate extreme circumstances.

Categories: Criminal Defense