On February 20, 2009, shortly after midnight, Mississippi Highway Patrol Officer Willie Triplett responded to a dispatch call for a one-vehicle accident on Highway 19 in Neshoba County. Upon arriving at the scene, he found a vehicle that had apparently left the highway, overturned, and ended up back on the highway facing the wrong direction. Medical and fire department personnel were with Rachel Smith, who denied she was injured.
In speaking with Smith about the accident, Trooper Triplett detected alcohol on her breath and noticed her speech was slurred. When asked if she had been drinking, Smith responded that she had consumed a few beers earlier in the evening. Trooper Triplett administered a portable breath test that detected the presence of alcohol. A subsequent Intoxilyzer 8000 test indicated that Smith’s breath-alcohol content was 0.11 percent. Smith was arrested for driving under the influence.
Smith was convicted of felony DUI and sentenced to two years. On appeal, she argued her statements to Trooper Triplett should have been suppressed. MCOA affirmed.
Trooper Triplett testified that he had not given Smith a Miranda warning before he asked her whether she had been drinking. When Trooper Triplett began to testify what Smith had said in response to his question, Smith’s trial attorney objected. The circuit court overruled the objection and Trooper Triplett went on to testify that Smith had said “she had had a few beers earlier.” Additionally, Trooper Triplett testified that Smith told him that she had been driving. Trooper Triplett explained that he asked Smith those questions because he was investigating the accident and it was his job as part of investigating the accident to find out who is injured and who is the driver.
Smith claims the circuit court erred when it allowed Trooper Triplett to testify regarding her responses to his initial questions. According to Smith, her responses were inadmissible because Trooper Triplett had not informed her of her rights pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s familiar decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
The Supreme Court stated that its decision in Miranda was not intended to hamper the traditional function of police officers in investigating crime. General on-the-scene questioning as to facts surrounding a crime or other general questioning of citizens in the fact-finding process is not affected by our holding.
In a non-custodial setting where interrogation is investigatory in nature (general on-the-scene-investigation), Miranda warnings are not required in order that a defendant’s statements be admissible. See MSC Hopkins. Trooper Triplett was required to give Smith a Miranda warning if Smith was in custody.
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 key to determining if the questioning of a person is a custodial interrogation within the meaning of Miranda is whether the defendant is deprived of his freedom of action in any significant manner and whether he is aware of such restraint.
Smith was not under arrest when Trooper Triplett asked her whether she had been drinking. Trooper Triplett did not testify regarding any statement Smith made after he arrested her – which was after he observed that she had been driving under the influence of alcohol. Smith was not deprived of her freedom in any manner whatsoever when Trooper Triplett asked questions intended to further his investigation of the one-vehicle accident. Trooper Triplett did not arrest Smith until after he had determined that she had been driving under the influence of alcohol. Accordingly, we find no merit to this issue.