A handcuffed subject at a search warrant for drugs was in custody in this case


In 2006, MBN, the Starkville Police Department, and the Okitibbeha County Sheriff’s Department executed a drug search warrant at the home of Perry Armstead. Officers located Armstead in his bedroom, just as he was walking out of an adjacent bathroom.

In this bathroom, officers found $23 dollars, the serial numbers of which matched the bills used in a controlled buy at the home earlier that day. Narcotics were also found in the home, including a small amount of cocaine in a black film canister in the kitchen cabinet.

Armstead was handcuffed and Mirandized in the carport by Agent Eddie Hawkins, MBN. Officer Maurice Johnson, Starkville P.D., was also in the carport during questioning. When told that his wife could also be charged with the dope, Armstead stated it was all his.

He was convicted of possession of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and sentenced to 17 years. On appeal, he argued that 1) Johnson questioned him without Mirandizing him and 2) he confessed after they threatened to arrest his wife. MSC affirmed.


A. Miranda given by the officer who is questioning him

Hawkins testified that he Mirandized Armstead and that Johnson never explicitly asked Armstead any questions. Johnson testified that he heard Hawkins Mirandize Armstead and he did question Armstead. Armstead claimed Johnson was not present when Hawkins Mirandized him.

Armstead cited McCarty v. State, 554 So. 2d 909 (Miss. 1989), wherein the defendant was read his Miranda rights during his first interrogation, but not during his third interrogation, some three and a half to four hours later, in which he made incriminating statements. This court held that the defendant had not been adequately warned of his rights against self-incrimination. Armstrong’s position is that Johnson should have Mirandized him before questioning him.

Our case is distinguishable from McCarty in that only one interrogation occurred—there were not multiple interrogation sessions. Additionally, only a short time transpired between the time that Hawkins read Armstead his Miranda rights and Johnson’s questioning.

B. Coercion to confess

Armstead asserts that his statements were coerced by Johnson’s threat to arrest Armstead’s wife if Armstead did not confess that the drugs belonged to him.

In Allen v. McCotter, 804 F2d. 1362 (5th Cir. 1986), the 5th circuit said that threats to arrest a defendant’s family members do not render a confession involuntary so long as probable cause exists to arrest such persons.

We find that probable cause existed to arrest Armstead’s wife. Cocaine was found in the kitchen, a common area of the home. Armstead’s wife had been living in the home and was listed on the lease.

In Hamm, we said that a presumption of constructive possession arises against the owner of premises upon which contraband is found. Accordingly, we find Johnson’s statements insufficient to render Armstead’s statement involuntary.

C. Armstead was in custody for Miranda purposes

The trial court implied that Miranda was not required because the questioning of Armstead by the officer was on scene while the search was being conducted. It was not a custodial interrogation away from the scene at a police station or in an interview. In other words, the trial judge did not believe he was in custody.

In Hopkins, we said that the test for whether a person is in custody is whether a reasonable person, based on the totality of the circumstances, would feel that he was in custody, i.e. that he was going to jail and not just being temporarily detained.

Factors to consider include the place and time of the interrogation, the people present, the amount of force or physical restraint used by the officers, the length and form of the questions, whether the defendant comes to the authorities voluntarily, and what the defendant is told about the situation.

Armstead was handcuffed and questioned under his carport soon after law enforcement officers had executed the search warrant. While various law enforcement officers were going in and out of the house, at least four officers were in the vicinity where Armstead was being questioned. Johnson placed a copy of the search warrant in a chair next to Armstead so that he could read it and be aware of the situation.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, we find that Armstead was subjected to a custodial interrogation and, therefore, Miranda was required. Nevertheless, this issue is of no consequence, since we found he was properly Mirandized.