In 2014, a five year old girl went missing from her apartment. After a 12 hour search, her body was found in an abandoned trailer fifty yards from her apartment complex. She had been raped and killed. Based on a tip, police were searching a neighbor’s apartment when Alberto Garcia approached them and engaged in conversation.
Since he was volunteering information about the investigation, police asked if he would be willing to go to the police station and give a statement. Garcia agreed and rode with the police. During the drive, Garcia mentioned that his fingerprints would likely be found in the trailer because he had been in the trailer the weekend before.
At the station, another detective formally interviewed Garcia after reading Miranda rights and obtaining a waiver. Garcia told the detective he had stolen some items from the trailer a few days earlier. So his fingerprints and possibly his DNA would be in the trailer. He went on to provide his explanation as to 1) why his bodily fluids would be in the trailer, 2) why feces that was not his was on him, and 3) his immediate shower after having feces on him. The interview ended when Garcia asked for a lawyer.
Garcia pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to death. On appeal of the sentence, Garcia argued that he should have been Mirandized in the police car and thus his statement should have been suppressed. MSC affirmed.
For Miranda rights to attach, Garcia had to have been in custody while on his way to the police station. In Hopkins, we said that the test for whether a person is in custody is whether a reasonable person would feel he was in custody and depends upon the totality of the circumstances. The factors to be considered 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.
Commander Ken Brown testified Garcia approached him voluntarily during the search of Gray’s apartment. Detective Clay Fulks then testified Garcia voluntarily agreed to accompany Fulks—who at the time was a patrol officer—to the police station to speak with detectives. When Garcia got into the back of the police car, he was not restrained. He was free to leave and could have asked Fulks to pull over or turn around at any point.
Garcia was not delivered to the sally port like other suspects, and he was not interrogated. Having watched the video of the car ride, the trial court noted it was Garcia who initiated the conversation and any questions Fulks asked dealt with a general conversation between the two—they were not investigatory.
Garcia suggests that as soon as he mentioned he had rummaged through the trailer days before, Fulks should have Mirandized him. But Fulks testified that, during the car ride, he had no reason to suspect Garcia had committed a separate crime of burglary based on his statement about his fingerprints. At that point, Fulks was simply giving a witness a ride to the police station as part of the ongoing investigation of JT’s murder. Garcia’s statement was made while a patrol officer voluntarily transported him to the police station as part of the fact finding process. He was not in custody.