Court Reviews Admissibility of Confession in Michigan Drug Case

Recently a state appellate court issued a per curiam decision in a defendant’s appeal of her Michigan drug offense conviction. The case arose when officers discovered a bag of cocaine in a store dressing room. An officer approached the defendant and her friend inquiring about the drugs, and the defendant admitted that the cocaine was hers. The defendant unsuccessfully motioned to suppress her confession because they were given involuntarily and in violation of her Miranda rights. A jury convicted the defendant of possession of cocaine.

The officer testified that he did not threaten, restrain, or block her ability to exit the store when he approached the defendant. Specifically, he stated that he told them that he could administer a field sobriety test or send the evidence to a lab. If the sample is sent to the lab, they generally process and release the suspects. He testified that he advised them he would prefer only to arrest the person responsible. He denied making any promises regarding allowing both of them to go or about a sentence. On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer did not give her any Miranda warnings, and her confession was involuntary because the officer promised leniency.

Under the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the United States Constitution are incorporated, and apply to state governments. In line with this, Miranda v. Arizona establishes additional rights which protect criminal defendants from self-incrimination during custodial interrogations. Statements obtained during a custodial interrogation are only admissible if the defendant knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived their Miranda rights. Custody inquiries involve evaluating five factors :

  • Location of the questioning;
  • Duration of the questioning;
  • Statements made during the questioning;
  • Presence or absence of physical restraints and;
  • Release of interviewee after questioning.

Here, the court found that the officer’s questioning before the defendant’s admissions did not violate Miranda. They reasoned that the officer approached the defendants to ensure that the women were the ones the employee observed and that the bag did not contain fentanyl. He explained that the defendants were free to leave during the preliminary questioning, and it only ended after she admitted ownership of the drugs. Ultimately, they found that the questioning was not custodial, and therefore he did not violate her Miranda rights.

Further, the law holds that confessions induced by promises of leniency are involuntary. However, encouraging an interviewee to tell the truth does not equate with a promise of leniency. Here, the defendant did not present any evidence that supported a conclusion that the officer promised leniency. He only explained the discretionary practice of his department. Therefore, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

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