The Fictional Case of the Flagstaff Forest Burning

Today we will talk about personal injury from the context of a lawyer and an ordinary everyday person. Anyone can be a mistaken culprit of arson and be liable for personal injury especially if somebody gets burn injuries. You do not have to be a lawyer though to know how to make sure you are never in court for arson. If you are in trouble with the law, contact criminal defense lawyer Mark W. Bennett for help.

  1. STATEMENT OF FACTS

Coconino Forest nearly burned down entirely. A fire burned down more than 15 acres of Coconino National Forest, and it was started from a nearby campsite. (Mot. Hrg. Tr. 21-22, Jan. 23, 2017.) It cost $75,000 to contain the fire. This was not a cheap tragedy. Around July 25, 2016, the Flagstaff FBI got a phone call from Alison Grant who said her ex-husband Robert Krieger may have had something to do with the fire. (Id. at 4-5.) Krieger had taken his children camping at Freidlin Prairie right before the Coconino Fire occurred. (Id. at 5.)

Krieger Voluntarily Came

On August 16, 2016, Agent Lanzarek reached out to Krieger by phone and requested that Krieger travel to the FBI office in Flagstaff. (Id.) Krieger voluntarily agreed to come down to the station to have a conversation with Agent Lanzarek. Krieger was not forced to come down to the station to have a conversation with Lanzarek. Krieger did not know why he was coming to the station, but a reasonable person would not expect to go to a police station for a “picnic”. It could be reasonably expected that Krieger may be asked questions by an officer at a police station during his conversation with Lanzarek.

1 Officer Unarmed During Interrogation

When Krieger arrived, Lanzarek took him to a small, private room to have their interrogation. (Id. at 6.) Only Agent Lanzarek was in the room interrogating Krieger, no other officers were involved in the interrogation. (Id.) Lanzarek was openly unarmed. (Id at 38.) He wore professional dress which was pants, a suit without the jacket, and a tie. (Id.) There were two officers outside the interrogation room talking in the beginning of the interrogation, but Lanzarek went outside the room and told them to move away. (Id at 12.)

Duration of Interrogation

For the first 20 minutes of the interrogation, Krieger and Lanzarek talked about baseball and local Flagstaff matters. (Id. at 7.) This part of the interrogation was purely conversational and likely made Krieger more comfortable with the interrogation room setting. The rest of the interrogation lasted for 46 minutes minus the 7-minute bathroom break that Krieger took, so overall 39 minutes of interrogation. For the remainder of the 39 minutes Lanzarek questioned Krieger about his involvement in the Flagstaff fire.

Krieger Free to Leave When Done Talking

In the beginning of the 39-minute interrogation, Lanzarek made it known to Krieger that “you’re not under arrest and no charges are pending against you”. Lanzarek also said “you will be leaving here on your own free will. You will be leaving here when we are done talking”. (Mot. Hrg., Gov’t Ex. 1.) Lanzarek made it known to Krieger that Krieger was there of his own accord and could leave at any time that he wished. (Id.)

Krieger Was Not Uncommonly Pressured

Lanzarek may have used coercive tactics to get Krieger to tell the truth, but Lanzarek did not use any illegal tactics. (Hrg. Tr. at 10.) Lanzarek also just told Krieger what may happen if Krieger did not come clean. For the most part, Krieger was an open talker and would answer Lanzarek’s questions. (Id. at 46.) When Krieger wanted to go to the bathroom, he was allowed to go by Lanzarek. (Id. at 15.) Also, as stated before, when Krieger was done with answering questions about Lanzarek he left of his own free will. (Id. at 17-18).

STATEMENT OF ISSUE PRESENTED

Agent Lanzarek invited Robert Krieger over to the police station to question Krieger about his possible involvement in the Flagstaff fire. Krieger agreed and went to the station where just Lanzarek questioned Krieger in a small, quiet room. When the Defendant Krieger was being interrogated by Agent Lanzarek was the Defendant Krieger in custody for purposes of Miranda?

III. ARGUMENT

  1. THE MOTION TO SUPPRESS SHOULD NOT BE GRANTED BECAUSE DEFENDANT WAS NOT IN CUSTODY FOR MIRANDA PURPOSES

During an investigation of the Freidlin Prairie Fire, Officer Lanzarek interrogated Defendant Robert Krieger and obtained incriminating statements. The question presented is whether Defendant was in custody at the time of the interrogation. If he was, Officer Lanzarek was constitutionally required to conduct Miranda warnings, and his failing to do so would require the suppression of Krieger’s incriminating statements. See United States v. Jefferson, 790 F.2d 346, 347 (9th Cir. 1987) (holding that non-Mirandized statements made during custodial interrogation cannot be used at trial).

The Fifth Amendment says that “No person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. Const. amend. V. In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court came up with a procedure, the so called Miranda warnings, to assure that a suspect is advised of his/her Fifth Amendment rights before “custodial interrogations”. 384 U.S. 436 (1966). An officer only has to give the suspect Miranda warnings when the suspect is in custody. Id. To determine whether a suspect was in custody, one must examine the totality of circumstances around the interrogation. J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 564 U.S. 261 (2011). Once the circumstances are taken into account, the court must decide whether a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have felt deprived of freedom such that he would not have felt free to end the interrogation. Id.

In order to decide whether a reasonable person would believe he or she was free to leave the environment, the following factors are among the most relevant: 1whether the suspect voluntarily came to the police station, 2 how many police officers were interrogating and whether they were armed, 3 whether the defendant was under arrest during the interrogation,4 and the duration of the interrogation. Craighead, 539 F.3d at 1084.

After reviewing the relevant factors mentioned, it is clear that Defendant Krieger was not in custody for Miranda purposes; a reasonable person in Defendant’s situation would have felt free to walk away from the interrogation. First, Defendant voluntarily agreed to take a trip to the police station. Second, Defendant was only interrogated by one officer that was unarmed. Third, Defendant was told he could end the interrogation and leave at any time once he was done talking, which he exercised this right. Finally, this was a brief interrogation, therefore the overall interrogation was non-custodial for Miranda purposes.

  1. Defendant voluntarily coming to station is in favor of non-custodial interrogation

Where a defendant voluntarily comes to a police station to speak to police, courts have held that the interrogation will tend to be non-custodial. Here, the record establishes that the Defendant Krieger voluntarily chose to come to the police station to speak with Agent Lanzarek. Agent Lanzarek called the Defendant on the phone and asked the Defendant to come into the station to talk, then the Defendant voluntarily drove himself over to the station. It was not stated whether the Defendant knew what Agent Lanzarek wished to speak about, but it is possible the Defendant knew their conversation would involve the Flagstaff fire.

Courts have found interrogations, where the defendants bring themselves to police stations, are often held as non-custodial. For example, in Oregon v. Mathiason, a police officer left a note for the defendant saying the police officer wanted to discuss something with him. 97 S. Ct. 711 (1977). The defendant called the police officer back and agreed to come down to the station to speak with the officer. Id. The Supreme Court later held that the defendant’s interrogation was non-custodial partly because the defendant voluntarily came to the police station. Id.

Where a defendant voluntarily comes to a police station for an interrogation, courts have found these interrogations to be non-custodial for Miranda purposes. Defendant Krieger agreed to meet Lanzarek at the police station and the Defendant consciously made the decision to get in his car and drive over to the police station to speak with Lanzarek. The Defendant fully knew he was going to a police station to talk to a police officer, no surprises there. It follows then that the interrogation should be held as non-custodial since the Defendant put himself in the situation by voluntarily driving to the station where he would be questioned by Lanzarek.

Prosecution will likely argue that the Defendant Krieger, although voluntarily choosing to come to the police station, did not know he would be interrogated by Agent Lanzarek. However, whether the Defendant suspected what Lanzarek would ask him is irrelevant because the Defendant chose to put himself in that situation. Where a defendant voluntarily comes to a police station for an interrogation, courts have found these interrogations to be non-custodial for Miranda purposes. No one forced the Defendant Krieger to come down to the police station for a possible questioning. The Defendant could have just of easily told Lanzarek “no” or he could of said “yes” and still never gone to the police station. A main point of the Mathiason logic is that a defendant that has the freedom to choose to come to a police station and be interrogated cannot have that interrogation seen as custodial for Miranda purposes because the defendant used his free will to put himself in that situation. 97 S. Ct. 711 (1977). An interrogation that deserves to be considered as custodial, for Miranda purposes, is one where the defendant’s freedom is restricted therefore he needs to have his Miranda rights read. In this current situation, the Defendant Krieger’s freedom was not restricted because he freely chose to drive down to the police station instead of being forcibly taken down to the station. It follows that this court should find the Defendant Krieger voluntarily coming to the police station to weigh in favor of a finding that the Defendant’s interrogation was non-custodial for Miranda purposes.

  1. Physical setting of the police station was in favor of a non-custodial holding of Defendant

Where a defendant is interrogated in a restrained, police-dominated environment, courts have held that the interrogation will tend to be custodial. See, e.g., United States v. Mittel-Carey, 493 F.3d at 38, 40 (1st Cir. 2007) (finding that the presence of eight officers in the home, one of whom un-holstered his gun, contributed to a police-dominated environment). Here, the record establishes that the interrogation took place in a police station in an interrogation room. Agent Lanzarek was the only police officer that interrogated the Defendant. Lanzarek was unarmed. The Defendant was free to move around the room as he spoke, however, it was a small room, but it had a table and at least two chairs for Lanzarek and the Defendant to sit in.

Courts have found interrogations, where a defendant is restrained and in a high-pressure police dominated environment, are often held as custodial. For example, in United States v. Craighead, the defendant was interrogated in a back storage room. 539 F.3d 1084, 86 (9th Cir. 2008). The defendant was not handcuffed or physically restrained. Id. In the storage room, there were two detectives in there with the defendant, one stood with his back to the door and was wearing police gear while visibly armed. Id. The court held that when viewing these facts in totality the defendant’s freedom was restrained in a way that would increase the likelihood that he would fall to police pressure, therefore the physical setting weighed in favor of custody for Miranda purposes. Id.

Where a defendant is interrogated in a restrained, police-dominated environment, courts have held that the interrogation will tend to be custodial. Here, Defendant Krieger was interrogated at the police station in a small room by one officer, Agent Lanzarek. Lanzarek was not in police gear, but was dressed professionally. He was openly unarmed, which may have helped ease some tension from the Defendant. The Defendant had a one on one interrogation with Lanzarek, no other officer joined them, so it seems difficult to call that small room a police-dominated environment. Although it was a small room, the Defendant was free to move around as he pleased; he was not physically restrained. It follows that this physical setting should be in favor of a non-custodial interrogation for Miranda purposes since the Defendant was not restrained and it was not a high-pressure, police-dominated environment.

Prosecution will likely argue that the key difference between Craighead and this current case was that in this case the Defendant Krieger went to a police station for his interrogation. Police stations can naturally be seen as intimidating and coercive, as opposed to the safety of one’s own home, even if the Craighead interrogation was in a storage room of one’s own home. Prosecution may say that the fact that the Defendant Krieger was interrogated in a police station should already tip the scale in a custodial favor since a reasonable person would be nervous and on edge inside a police station. However, the Oregon v. Mathiason court held that just because an interrogation is in a coercive environment does not mean the interrogation should be held as custodial. 429 U.S. 492, 97 (S.Ct. 1977). Any interrogation where one is suspected of a crime by a police officer will have coercive aspects to it, simply because the police office is part of the law enforcement system which may eventually cause the suspect to be charged with a crime. Id. Police officers do not have to administer Miranda warning just because the questioning takes place in a police station. Id. Miranda warnings are required only when there is a restriction on a person’s freedom that this person is deemed “in custody”. Id. Where a defendant is in a physical setting that is restraining, police-dominated, and high-pressure, courts have held the physical setting to weigh in favor of a custodial interrogation for Miranda purposes. Here, this was not the case even though the Defendant Krieger was interrogated in a police station. A police station will always have coercive elements to it, and in this case the Defendant was interrogated by one unarmed police officer, in a calm, small room. There simply was not enough coercive, high-pressure, police-dominating elements. It follows that this physical setting should be in favor of a non-custodial interrogation for Miranda purposes.

  1. Duration of interrogation is in favor of non-custodial interrogation

Where an interrogation lasts for an hour or less, courts have held that the interrogation will tend to be non-custodial. Here, the record establishes that the Defendant’s interrogation with Officer Lanzerak started at 9:31 PM and ended at 10:37 PM. During that time the Defendant took a 7-minute bathroom break. Also, the first 20 minutes of the interrogation were spent talking about baseball and local Flagstaff political matters; accordingly, Lanzarek “interrogated” the Defendant for 39 minutes because the 20 minutes of small talk and the bathroom break does not count as part of the interrogation. See, e.g., Mickey v. Ayers, 606 F.3d 1223, 1235 (9th Cir. 2010) (finding that small talk between a suspect and a police officer not about a current investigation is not considered interrogational).

Courts have found that interrogations lasting just one hour can be held as non-custodial for Miranda purposes. For example, in United States v. Crawford, the defendant came into the FBI office voluntarily and sat down with agents for an hour interrogation. 372 F.3d 1048, 1061 (9th Cir. 2004). The 9th circuit Court of Appeals held that the defendant was not in custody due in part to the short duration of the interrogation. Id.

Where interrogations are an hour or less, courts have found these interrogations to be non-custodial for Miranda purposes. Lanzarek started off the interrogation simply talking to the Defendant for at least 20 minutes about irrelevant matters and the Defendant took a 7-minute bathroom break, thus leaving only 39 minutes for the actual interrogation. It follows that Lanzarek’s interrogation of the Defendant should be held as non-custodial since the duration was under an hour.

There is no perfect case that says what duration of interrogation is custodial versus non-custodial. However, there are cases that show interrogations that were too long to be held as non-custodial. For example, in United States v. Barnes, the defendant was questioned for about two hours and the court held that an interrogation lasting roughly two hours is custodial for Miranda purposes. United States v. Barnes, 713 F.3d 1200, 1204 (9th Cir. 2013). Only where interrogations are an hour or less do courts generally hold the interrogation to be non-custodial for Miranda purposes. In United States v. Barnes the defendant was interrogated for about 2 hours. It followed that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held the defendant to be in custody for Miranda purposes. However, in this present case the Defendant Krieger was interrogated for a maximum of 39 minutes which is much less than a 2-hour interrogation. Therefore, the duration of the Defendant’s interrogation weighs in favor of a finding that the Defendant’s interrogation was non-custodial for Miranda purposes.

  1. Defendant was not under arrest which is in favor of a non-custodial holding

The record establishes that Agent Lanzarek told the Defendant that the Defendant was not under arrest. The Defendant clearly exercised his right to leave because when he felt too uncomfortable to talk he stopped talking, got up, and was escorted out of the police station by Lanzarek. Thus, the court should find the Defendant not being under arrest should weigh against finding the interrogation to have a custodial nature.

Courts have continuously found that in cases where the defendant is told multiple times that he or she is not under arrest, that defendant is not in custody. In United States v. Bassignani, the court said they have consistently held that a defendant is not in custody when officers tell him that he is not under arrest and is free to go. 575 F.3d 879, 886 (9th Cir. 2009). See, e.g., United States v. Crawford, 372 F.3d 1048, 1051 (9th Cir. 2004) (where the court said the defendant was told he is not under arrest which helped find the interrogation was non-custodial for Miranda purposes).

Where a police officer repeatedly tells a defendant that he is not under arrest, courts have held that the defendant’s interrogation is non-custodial for Miranda purposes. Here, Officer Lanzarek repeatedly told the Defendant that he was not under arrest, similar to what the FBI officer told the defendant in Bassignani. The Defendant clearly believed Lanzarek that he was not under arrest because when Lanzarek became too uncomfortable answering questions he got up and was escorted out of the police station. It follows that this court should weight this factor in favor of being non-custodial since Defendant Krieger was told he was not under arrest the interrogation should be non-custodial for Miranda purposes.

The Prosecution will argue that the Defendant was overwhelmed by the confrontation of guilt from Officer Lanzarek, therefore the Defendant’s interrogation should be custodial in nature. The Prosecution will likely compare Defendant Krieger’s case to United States v. Carroll and say that since the confrontations of guilt are similar the court here should rule that Krieger’s interrogation was custodial for Miranda purposes; however, there are some distinctive differences between Krieger’s case and Carroll. In Carroll, 10 minutes into the interrogation the defendant was already being aggressively confronted with accusatory evidence. 102 F.Supp.3d 1134 (9th Cir. 2015). The officers heavily almost bullied the defendant into giving up incriminating statements. Id. Only where a defendant is completely overwhelmed by confrontation of guilt do courts hold the defendant’s interrogation to be custodial for Miranda purposes. Here, Agent Lanzarek spent at least the first 20 minutes engaging Defendant Krieger in small talk about local and political matters. Lanzarek likely was not trying to overwhelm the Defendant with confrontations of guilt. The Defendant was simply an open talker who did not seem to feel uncommonly pressured by Lanzarek, so much so that when the Defendant immediately felt too uncomfortable he stopped talking and the Defendant was allowed to leave. This court should therefore not hold Defendant Krieger’s interrogation to have been overwhelmed by the confrontation of guilt, which means confrontation of guilt weighs in favor of a finding that the Defendant’s interrogation was non-custodial for Miranda purposes.

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