Archive for the ‘Police Procedure’ Category
Working the dreaded graveyard shift is bad enough as it is, but when you add the extra stress of working it alone, well, then it sometimes becomes downright dangerous. But I’ve done it, and so have many police officers across the country who work in small towns and counties. In my case it was a county—my first law enforcement assignment—and it wasn’t all that small. But our sheriff had his way of running things and no one was brave enough to contradict the larger than life man behind the curtain. So working alone it was.
Typically, working the midnight shift is slow and lonely, especially after 2 a.m. (10 p.m. – 2 a.m. are the action hours, usually). You spend your late-night patrol time fighting sleep while listening to anything you can find on the radio. And you constantly fight with that mandatory piece of equipment worn by all graveyard shift officers…the invisible string attached to your eyelids—the one that attempts to pull them down like grandma’s old-time window shades. And the string uses a downward force that’s equal to three times the earth’s gravitational pull.
You’re out there with the feral dogs and cats while they raid garbage cans and dumpsters, and the back-lit mannequins guarding storefront windows in the various small towns are the only company that remotely resembles another human. Wispy tendrils of steam rise out of the storm drains, twisting and winding their way upward toward the black sky. Your spotlight reveals things between silos and tractor sheds that may or may not be there. Only your mind knows for sure. Images of a nice, warm, soft bed and pillow play on a never-ending loop inside your mind.
But there are some moments of excitement and action and working an entire county alone poses some interesting problems…like getting to a crime scene before your shift ends in four hours.
The trip across our county from east to west, with blue lights and siren and gas pedal to the floor, was 40 minutes or so. That’s nonstop as the crow flies. North to south was even further. Much further. Diagonally, though, if a deputy was patrolling in the far southwest corner and received a call in the far northeast, well, let’s just say that we hoped the complainant knew how to shoot or had a pack of viscous attack dogs handy, because we’d have to stop for gas twice before we’d reach them. And that’s if our radios could pick up a signal in the deepest, darkest corners of the county. To make matters worse, since interstates do not run diagonally, that meant dodging deer, ‘possums, and racoons while traveling on winding and roller-coaster-like country roads for a good portion of the trip.
Daytime shifts in rural areas present their own challenges. You know, like when you’re running full lights and sirens because someone has just been shot, and suddenly find yourself behind a large farm tractor pulling some sort of bright green farm machinery that covered the entire roadway and both shoulders? And, of course, Bubba is chattering away on his CB radio while scooting along at a breath-taking 4 miles-per-hour. He can’t hear your siren over the roar of the equipment and he never, not ever, turns around to see what’s behind.
So you’re left with no choice but to find a shallow spot in the ditch and crash through it sending everything inside your car flying—coffee cup under the brake pedal, papers on the dashboard, handcuffs under the seat and, well, you get the idea. Then you plow through an acre or so of corn in order to pass the plaid-shirted tobacco-chewer who turned and spat a nice wad through your open window just as you finally made your way past his mammoth tires.
Then, to top off the trip, you arrive at the scene and discover an entire family, along with several shirtless friends, fighting like they’re the feature “act” in one of those ridiculous TV wresting matches. And they’ve chosen large hunting knives as their weapons du jour. So you yell out, “Junior!” knowing that at least half of the crew will stop fighting long enough to see who’s calling their given names. That’s usually enough to scatter the ones who have outstanding warrants or are parole or probation violators. Then you can arrest the remaining half-dozen, or so. Of course, first you’ll have to stand toe-to-toe and argue with the wives of each of the offenders, and you don’t want to arrest them because each one has at least one snotty-nosed diaper-wearing kid hanging from a hip. And there’s always a one-eyed, three-legged dog named Bear or Blue nipping at your ankles during this entire mess.
Just as you’re about to ratchet the cuffs on the largest of the suspects (if you only have one pair of cuffs, always handcuff the behemoth who’s most likely the one who could inflict the most amount of pain on you), your radio crackles…”Shots fired…unintelligible….at the unintelligible…use…unintelligible…10-4?”
Anyway, that’s how it goes sometimes when you’re working an entire shift, alone. Other times, especially at night, it can be downright nerve-wracking not knowing what’s at the other end of that driveway, the one where you hear gunshots echoing off dented aluminum siding and rusty tin roofs.
But you do what you gotta do to keep your sanity, even if it means finding the end of a long dirt road, stopping the car, turning out the lights, and closing your eyes for a few minutes as Delilah tells some poor love-sick guy, “She’s gone for good, but here’s song that’ll make you feel better about yourself…”
Police radio crackles. Eyes open, wide.
“Automobile crash at the intersection of…”
And so it goes…hoping you’ll reach the crash before daylight.
The premise is simple. Whenever a criminal suspect is in custody, and prior to interrogation (questioning), he must be warned of his rights as set by Miranda.
In addition, police may question the suspect(s) only after the person in custody acknowledges that they understand those rights and voluntarily waive them. However, suspects may choose to invoke their rights—remain silent, request to speak to an attorney, etc.—at any point during the questioning, at which time the police must terminate the interrogation.
The consequence for police not adhering to Miranda is great. Basically, no Miranda warnings = statements made by the suspect may not be used in court. Therefore, a confession to the crime(s) is totally worthless.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has ruled that there is one (only one) exception to Miranda—the Public Safety Exception.
The Public Safety Exception to Miranda is simply this…law enforcement may ask limited and extremely focused questions without warning the suspect of his rights according to Miranda, and the answers to those questions may be introduced in court proceedings. Under this exception questions must be limited to facts relating to a specific and immediate threat to the safety of the public.
Invoking the Public Safety Exception does not mean that authorities have free reign to question a suspect about any and everything under the sun, including questions relating to the crime for which the suspect is currently being held. Again, questions must be limited to facts that relate to a very specific and immediate threat to public safety.
The Public Safety Exception first came to light in a New York case involving a suspected rapist named Benjamin Quarles. The victim told police that she’d just seen Quarles enter a supermarket and that he was carrying a gun. Officers then went inside the store and, after a brief foot chase up and down the aisles, captured him.
When officers searched Quarles they didn’t find the weapon. Therefore, worried that a loaded gun was somewhere within the public area of the store and that anyone, including a child, could be harmed, officers immediately asked their suspect what he’d done with the weapon. Quarles indicated the gun was near some milk cartons and said, “The gun is over there.”
Officers did indeed find the weapon and then read the Miranda Warning to Quarles before asking questions pertaining to the alleged rape.
The trial court, though, excluded Quarles’ statement about the gun and his possession of the weapon, because officers didn’t advise him of his Miranda rights prior to asking about it. Appellate courts also agreed with the lower court’s ruling. However, the U.S. Supreme Court first found that Miranda is not a right according to the constitution. Instead, the court stated, Miranda is designed to provide protection for the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. On this basis they decided the very public location of the weapon posed an immediate threat to public safety, and that officers had acted appropriately by asking questions that were prompted by a reasonable concern for the safety of the general public.
Since Quarles, the Public Safety Exception to Miranda has been used successfully on numerous occasions where the safety of the public was of first concern. For example, U.S. v. Khalil, U.S. v. DeSantis, and U.S. v. Mobley. And, the Exception is successfully utilized even after a suspect asks to speak to an attorney. Again, this ruling only pertains to an immediate threat to public safety, such as the possibility that explosives may be hidden somewhere where citizens may travel or congregate, such as in the case of the Boston Marathon bomber.
In the Boston case, interrogators wanted to know if more bombs and other weapons existed. They also needed to know if more people were involved in the bombings. If so, it was of immediate concern that officials locate them and stop possible new attacks, so they proceeded without advising Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of Miranda.
However, at no time did the questioning move outside the very narrow scope of the immediate threat to public safety. Once the topic moved toward Tsarnaev’s actual criminal charges/case, investigators then advised him of the Miranda warnings.
The Public Safety Exception has been in place for just over 30 years, since the Supreme Court ruled on the Quarles case in 1984. Reagan was in office at the time.
*Remember, writers, officers only need to recite the Miranda warnings prior to questioning and when a person is in custody. If there is no intention of questioning, then there’s no legal mandate for Miranda (individual department policy may require it, though). Therefore, the stuff you see on TV—spouting off Miranda warnings the second the cuffs go on—is not how it works in real life.