Berkemer v. McCarty

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Berkemer v. McCarty
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued February 28, 1984
Decided July 2, 1984
Full case nameBerkemer, Sheriff of Franklin County, Ohio v. McCarty
Citations468 U.S. 420 (more)
104 S. Ct. 3138; 82 L. Ed. 2d 317
Case history
PriorDefendant convicted; conviction upheld by Supreme Court of Ohio due to lack of substantial appellate question. State v. McCarty, No. 81-710 (July 1, 1981); State habeas corpus petition denied, McCarty v. Herdman, No. C-2-81-1118 (Dec. 11, 1981); Federal habeas corpus petition granted, McCarty v. Herdman, 716 F.2d 361, 363 (1983)
A person subjected to custodial interrogation is entitled to the benefit of the procedural safeguards enunciated in Miranda, regardless of the nature or severity of the offense of which he is suspected or for which he was arrested.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityMarshall, joined by Burger, Brennan, White, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV

Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), is a decision of the United States Supreme Court which ruled that, in the case of a person stopped for a misdemeanor traffic offense, once they are in custody, the protections of the Fifth Amendment apply to them pursuant to the decision in Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Previously, some courts had been applying Miranda only to serious offenses.


An officer observed the defendant's car weaving in and out of its traffic lane.[1] The officer stopped defendant and asked him to get out of his car.[1] The officer noticed that the defendant was having difficulty standing.[1] The defendant's speech was slurred and difficult to understand.[1] Defendant could not perform a “balancing test” without falling.[1]

The officer then asked the defendant if he had consumed any intoxicants. Defendant said that he drank two beers and smoked several joints of marijuana shortly before being stopped.[1] The officer then arrested the defendant and took him to the county jail where the defendant took an intoxilyzer test. The test results were negative for the presence of alcohol.[1]

The officer then resumed questioning the defendant.[2] The defendant responded affirmatively when asked if he had been drinking.[2] When asked if he was under the influence of alcohol said "I guess, barely."[2] At no time was the defendant advised of his Miranda rights.[2]

The trial court denied the defendant's motion to suppress his pre and post arrest statements.[2] After exhausting his state appeals, the defendant filed a motion for writ of habeas corpus.[3] The federal district court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed holding that “Miranda warnings must be given to all individuals prior to custodial interrogation, whether the offense investigated is a felony or a misdemeanor traffic offense, and that respondent's post-arrest statements, at least, were inadmissible.” The Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider two issues - whether the Miranda rule applies to defendants charged with a misdemeanor and whether an investigative detention is equivalent to Miranda custodial interrogation.

Opinion of Court[edit]

  1. Miranda applies to custodial interrogations involving minor traffic offenses.
  2. Routine questioning of motorists detained pursuant to traffic stops is not custodial interrogation under Miranda.

The Miranda rule prohibits the use of testimonial evidence in criminal proceedings that is the product of custodial police interrogation unless the police properly advised the defendant of his Fifth Amendment rights and the defendant knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived those rights and agreed to talk to the police. The circumstances triggering the Miranda safeguards are "custody" and "interrogation." Custody means formal arrest or the deprivation of freedom to an extent associated with formal arrest. Interrogation means explicit questioning or actions that are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. Unquestionably the defendant in Berkemer was interrogated. In fact, he was interrogated twice - prearrest roadside questioning and post arrest questioning at the jail. In neither case had the officer advised the defendant of his Miranda rights. As for post arrest interrogation, the defendant was in custody since he had been arrested. The issue for the court was whether to create an exception to Miranda for custodial interrogations that related to minor offenses.[4]

The Supreme Court declined to carve out such an exception because to do so would sacrifice the certainty and clarity of the Miranda rule.[5] The pre arrest interrogation raised the issue of whether detention was equivalent to custody for purposes of the Miranda rule.[6] In its opinion, the Court stated:

The roadside questioning of a motorist detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop does not constitute "custodial interrogation" for the purposes of the Miranda rule. Although an ordinary traffic stop curtails the "freedom of action" of the detained motorist and imposes some pressures on the detainee to answer questions, such pressures do not sufficiently impair the detainee's exercise of his privilege against self-incrimination to require that he be warned of his constitutional rights. A traffic stop is usually brief, and the motorist expects that, while he may be given a citation, in the end he most likely will be allowed to continue on his way... However, if a motorist who has been detained pursuant to a traffic stop thereafter is subjected to treatment that renders him "in custody" for practical purposes, he is entitled to the full panoply of protections prescribed by Miranda.

The Court found that there were two significant differences between interrogation of person taken into custody and detainees. First was the length of the detention. Investigative detentions were brief and usually culminated in the issuance of a citation and release of the defendant. Second, the circumstances attendant to roadside detention were substantially less coercive and compulsive than those typically surrounding custodial interrogation.[7] Specifically the Court noted that during most traffic stops the actions of the officer were "exposed" to public view and that stops typically involved only one or two officers.[8]

  • A police officer can stop a vehicle if he has a reasonable articulable reason to suspect that “criminal activity is occurring.”[9]
  • The officer may detain for sufficient time to conduct a reasonable investigation that either confirms or dispels his suspicions.
  • The officer is not required to arrest the suspect once the officer has PC. The officer may delay the arrest for purposes of conducting a non-custodial interrogation.
  • The officer may interrogate the suspect without advising him of his Miranda rights.
  • The officer may ignore suspect's attempts to exercise her Miranda rights because the rights have not attached.
For example, if a person who is being detained on suspicions of impaired driving asks to contact a lawyer the officer may ignore the statement and continue to question the suspect.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 423 (1984).
  2. ^ a b c d e Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 424.
  3. ^ Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 425.
  4. ^ Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 429.
  5. ^ Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 430–432.
  6. ^ Detention is a fourth amendment concept. A detention is a temporary seizure of a person for purposes of investigation. A person who is detained is not free to leave. However, a temporary constraint on one's freedom of movement falls short of fifth amendment custody. The fourth amendment analog to custody is arrest. Note that a person who has been detained has the right to remain silent and decline to answer questions. Berkemer holds that the police are not required to follow the Miranda procedures before questioning the suspect. (The Supreme Court has upheld a law that required a person to give his name when requested by a law enforcement officer)
  7. ^ "In short, the atmosphere surrounding an ordinary traffic stop is substantially less "police dominated" than that surrounding the kinds of interrogation at issue in Miranda itself ..." Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 438-39.
  8. ^ Given the brevity and openess of roadside detention the opportunity and effectiveness of psycholigical ploys and strategems is reduced.
  9. ^ The officer may also stop if he has probable cause to believe that a crime is was or will be committed.

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