Subject was in custody for purposes of miranda when interviewed at hospital


Joyce H. Canups died after being injured at the intersection of U.S. Highway 61 and Casino Center Drive in Tunica County, Mississippi, when the car she was driving was struck from behind by a red pickup truck allegedly being driven by Gary Hopkins. About forty minutes after the wreck, Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol Sergeant William Williamson arrived at the scene of the wreck and began an investigation into its cause.

He found Hopkins wrapped in a blanket and seated in the median of the highway. Williamson approached Hopkins and asked him if he was the driver of the red pickup to which Hopkins responded affirmatively. Williamson also asked if Hopkins was the only occupant of the pickup, and Hopkins again answered affirmatively.

Hopkins also told Williamson that he did not see the car Canups was driving until he had hit it. During this conversation, Williamson noted that Hopkins appeared intoxicated as his eyes were glassy and bloodshot and he smelled of alcohol. Williamson also observed Hopkins had blood on his hands and face. Williamson then inspected Hopkins’s red pickup.

Williamson found beer bottles and cans in the bed and cab of the pickup. He also saw no signs to indicate another person was inside the truck at the time of the wreck. The windshield of the pickup was broken in a spider-web shape on the driver’s side of the car but the passenger’s side was only crossed with stress cracks. There was no blood on either the passenger’s side or the driver’s side of the truck.

Hopkins was transported to the hospital to be treated for his injuries. Williamson followed Hopkins thirty minutes later, ostensibly to complete his accident report, and asked Hopkins again whether he was driving the red pickup and who else was in the car. Hopkins again admitted he was driving the pickup at the time of the wreck and made no mention of other passengers in the truck.

At this time, it is apparent that Williamson knew that Canups had died from her injuries and state law required him to obtain a blood sample from Hopkins. Therefore, Williamson asked the hospital’s lab technician to draw Hopkins’s blood with a standard blood collection kit which he later forwarded to the Mississippi Crime Lab. Williamson testified that at no time was Hopkins under arrest. Hopkins was not informed of his Miranda rights either at the scene of the wreck or at the hospital.

Hopkins was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 20 years. On appeal, he argued his statements were taken without being given Miranda warnings. MSC affirmed.


It is uncontested that Hopkins was not informed of his Miranda rights prior to making the statements at either the scene or the hospital.

It is clear from U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), that Hopkins must be in custody when he made the statements in order for the privilege to apply. Miranda said in part, our decision is 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.

The Miranda Court was concerned about the voluntariness of statements made in a coercive environment, given under a badge of intimidation and in conditions designed to subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner.

This court has previously held that certain situations are excluded from Miranda’s scope. We said in Porter v. State, 616 So. 2d 899 (Miss. 1993), that 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. Even in this setting, statements must be freely and voluntarily given in order to be admissible.

Whether Miranda applies in the case at bar is determined by answering whether Hopkins was in custody when he made the statements and whether he made them freely and voluntarily. 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. 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.

A. Statement at scene

Williamson arrived on the scene at approximately 9:20 p.m., forty minutes after the wreck. As a routine part of his investigation, he asked general questions designed to determine who was involved, who needed medical assistance, and what happened. Hopkins was sitting in the median of the highway when Williamson first interviewed him.

Before he made the statements, Hopkins was not handcuffed or told he was under arrest by Williamson or any other law enforcement officer present at the scene. Under these non-coercive conditions, we hold that Hopkins was not in custody for Miranda purposes, and the trial court did not commit error by allowing Williamson to testify concerning the statements Hopkins made at the scene of the wreck.

B. Statement at hospital

Hopkins said Williamson was going to arrest him if he didn’t go to the hospital. Williamson denied forcing Hopkins to go to the hospital.

At the hospital, Hopkins was being treated for his injuries when Williamson began asking him questions again. It was approximately 10:00 p.m. when Williamson arrived. Hopkins was not told that he was under arrest nor handcuffed. After Hopkins answered the questions, Williamson directed the hospital lab technician to draw a blood sample from Hopkins.

Considered in the light of the option Hopkins had before being transferred to the hospital and his being forced to provide a blood sample while there, we find Hopkins’s freedom was restrained enough to require informing him of his Miranda rights.

Where a Miranda violation has occurred, it will be considered harmless if the record demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that admitting the evidence was not prejudicial.

As Hopkins’s statements at the hospital were merely repetitions of what he said at the scene and there is little in the record to suggest the hospital statements prejudiced Hopkins’s defense in any way, we hold the trial court did not commit reversible error by allowing Williamson to testify concerning them. This issue is without merit.


Since this case was decided, MSC has said that police must have probable cause to use Miss. Code Ann. §  63-11-8. Otherwise, you will need a warrant, consent, or search incident to arrest to draw blood from someone, even if the other party dies.