Interesting Sixth Circuit Opinion regarding Miranda Rights And Public Safety Exception

Interesting Sixth Circuit Opinion regarding Miranda Rights And Public Safety Exception

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An interesting opinion, especially in light of the recent Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent arrest, is the Sixth Circuit case of U.S. v. Hodge. In Hodge, a suspect’s home was raided by police and a bomb was discovered after the suspect divulged its existence during questioning by police that took place without reading the suspect his Miranda rights. The issue before the court was whether evidence of the bomb gleaned from his statements to police should be suppressed. The Sixth Circuit held: no, it should not, that the questioning was valid due to the public safety exception to Miranda.

The case began when an informant approached police in Calhoun County, Michigan to say that an acquaintance, Lonnie Hodge, was using a one pot meth making method known as “shake and bake.” The method requires combining the ingredients of methamphetamine into a single bottle and shaking it until the drug is properly formed. The informant further said that Hodge had a pipe bomb and a black rifle that he suspected was an AK-47.

The police investigated Hodge by going through the list of pseudoephedrine purchasers and coordinating with neighboring police departments who were also investigating the man. After gathering sufficient evidence, the police were able to obtain a search warrant for Hodge’s home.

When police arrived things did not begin well. They knocked down the door to be greeted by a 6-foot 6, 320-pound Hodge waiving a screwdriver and screaming incoherently. Eventually Hodge was subdued and removed from the premises for questioning. A few minutes later, once Hodge calmed down, an officer asked whether Hodge he had anything in his house such as a meth lab or a pipe bomb that could hurt officers. Hodge said no. A few minutes later Hodge said that there was a bomb in the house. The police then pressed him for more information and he admitted that there was a pipe bomb, giving the location of the device that was eventually disarmed by the bomb expert. A subsequent search of the house uncovered drugs, though not meth, and a black rifle.

Hodge asked the trial court to suppress evidence of the pipe bomb, saying that the officer’s failure to read him his Miranda rights meant that the fruits of the interrogation should be inadmissible in court. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, ruling that the bomb should be admitted given the pubic safety exception established by the Supreme Court in New York v. Quarles as well as the inevitable discovery doctrine.

The Sixth Circuit said that in some cases “overriding considerations of public safety” can permit officers to omit reading a suspect his or her Miranda rights before questioning. The Court held that because bombs, especially pipe bombs, are by their very nature unstable and could explode at any time, they posed a real and present danger to all the officers at Hodge’s house.

Additionally, the Sixth Circuit wrote that even if a Miranda violation had occurred, the pipe bomb would still not be suppressed due to the inevitable discovery doctrine. This is because the police had a valid warrant to search the home and, given the bomb’s location, would have eventually discovered it even without Hodge warning them in advance.

To read the full opinion, click here.

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