Officers taking keys during traffic stop does not mean custody for Miranda purposes


In 2016 Madison Police Officer Rob Parker observed a Ford Mustang that was driving in and out of his lane and traveling at a high rate of speed on I-55 South. Parker pursued the vehicle and noted that a cup was thrown from the window before the car stopped. As Parker approached the driver, Nikolas Johnson, he smelled the strong odor of intoxicated beverage.

He asked Johnson how much he had to drink and Johnson answered “enough to be, uh, sober…” Officer Parker then asked Johnson to turn the car off and give him the keys. Johnson consented to a portable breathalyzer test, which showed he had consumed alcohol.  Johnson then admitted he had been drinking Vodka and sprite and should not have been driving.

Johnson was arrested for DUI, taken to the police station, Mirandized, and then given an “Intoxilyzer 8000” test. His BAC was above .13%. Johnson was convicted in municipal court of DUI and other crimes and appealed to the county court which also found him guilty. The circuit court affirmed and on appeal he argued that his roadside statements should have been suppressed because he had not been Mirandized. Taking his keys put him in custody according to Johnson. MCOA affirmed.


Miranda warnings must be given before a suspect is subjected to custodial interrogation. The United States Supreme Court in Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), held that routine traffic stops are not custodial interrogations for purposes of Miranda. The Supreme Court explained, under the Fourth Amendment, that a policeman who lacks probable cause but whose observations lead him reasonably to suspect that a particular person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, may detain that person briefly in order to investigate the circumstances that provoke suspicion.

The stop and inquiry must be reasonably related in scope to the justification for their initiation. Typically, this means that the officer may ask the detainee a moderate number of questions to determine his identity and to try to obtain information confirming or dispelling the officer’s suspicions. But the detainee is not obliged to respond. And, unless the detainee’s answers provide the officer with probable cause to arrest him, he must then be released.

The comparatively nonthreatening character of detentions of this sort explains the absence of any suggestion in our opinions that Terry stops are subject to the dictates of Miranda. The similarly noncoercive aspect of ordinary traffic stops prompts us to hold that persons temporarily detained pursuant to such stops are not “in custody” for the purposes of Miranda.

The Mississippi Supreme Court and this court have likewise held that a person is not “in custody” for purposes of Miranda during an ordinary traffic stop.

In Keys, we held that an officer was not required to give a Miranda warning during a traffic stop prior to asking the motorist whether he had been drinking.

In Millsap, we held that a Miranda warning was not required during a traffic stop even though a drug dog had already indicated the presence of drugs in the subject car.

And in Levine, we held that a Miranda warning was not required even though a second officer had been called to the scene to assist and even though the officers believed that there was already probable cause for an arrest.

Likewise in this case, Parker was not required to give a Miranda warning prior to asking Johnson “a moderate number of questions” to investigate his suspicions that he was driving under the influence. Johnson argues that by taking his keys, Parker transformed the routine traffic stop into a custodial interrogation. We disagree.

The traffic stop was the equivalent of a “Terry stop.” During a Terry stop, officers are authorized to take such steps as are reasonably necessary to protect their personal safety and to maintain the status quo. Parker suspected that Johnson was intoxicated, and taking Johnson’s keys was a reasonable means of protecting the officers’ safety during the course of the stop. This reasonable safety precaution did not transform the routine traffic stop into a custodial interrogation.