Friday, July 8th, 2016

Defendant Not “in Custody” When Questioned During Execution of Search Warrant at Her Home

In United States v. Danielle Faux, Docket No. 15-1282-cr, the Circuit (Jacobs, Hall, Restani), in an opinion by Judge Jacobs, reversed on the Government’s interlocutory appeal the district court’s grant of defendant Faux’s suppression motion, based on the claim that she was “in custody” when law enforcement agents questioned her (without providing Miranda warnings) while executing a search warrant of her home. The ultimate question in such cases — whether, taking into all the circumstances, “a reasonable person would have understood his freedom of action to have been curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest,” Op. at 12 — is necessarily fact-specific. And while the Court acknowledges that this is a very close case – “[t]he Government stepped right up to the limits of constitutionally permissible conduct and . . . just managed to toe the line” – it ultimately concludes that “the circumstances did not rise to the level of a ‘custodial interrogation,’ [] defined narrowly in our case law as circumstances akin to formal arrest.” Op. at 3.

Several facts support the district court’s ruling that Faux was in custody for Miranda purposes. For instance, somewhere between 10 to 15 armed agents entered her home (an inexplicable show of force given the “paperwork fraud” that Faux was suspected of, Op. at 17) to execute a search warrant at dawn, literally as Faux and her husband were taking their luggage out to the car on their way to a long-planned family vacation in Mexico – they missed their flight as a result and cancelled the vacation. Moreover, agents separated Faux from her husband, questioned her for two hours, never told her that she was free to leave, and accompanied her when she needed to go to the bathroom or the bedroom.

The Circuit nonetheless rejects that determination, concluding that Faux was not in custody. It emphasized that the questioning occurred in Faux’s own dining room,1 that she was not handcuffed, that the agents never displayed their weapons or otherwise threatened or used any physical force, and that they specifically told her, 20 minutes into the interview, that she was not under arrest. Op. at 20-21. Additionally, Faux was “never told that she was not free to leave; she did not seek to end the encounter, or to leave the house, or to join her husband; [and] the tone of the questioning was largely conversational.” Op. at 21-22. Under these circumstances, Faux was not “completely at the mercy of the police” and thus not in custody. Op. at 12-13.


1 See Op. at 13 (“[C]ourts rarely conclude, absent a formal arrest, that a suspect questioned in her own home is ‘in custody.’”).

Comments are closed.