The Supreme Court yesterday limited the circumstances in which prisoners must be told of their rights before they are questioned, the New York Times reports. The question was whether an inmate’s confession to a sex cime should have been suppressed because he didn’t get Miranda warnings before he was questioned. The answer turned on whether he was in custody at the time.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote tor the 6-3 majority that “custody” for these purposes “is a term of art that specifies circumstances that are thought generally to present a serious danger of coercion.” The inmate, Randall Fields, was in a Michigan jail for disorderly conduct when he was taken to a conference room and questioned for five to seven hours by armed deputies who used a sharp tone and profanity. He was told he was free to return to his cell but was not given Miranda warnings. The key inquiry, Justice Alito said, was whether a reasonable person in those circumstances would have felt free to end the questioning and leave. He said the fact of imprisonment did not by itself provide the answer. On balance, Alito said, Fields was not in custody, and so no warnings were required.