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Commonwealth v. Vellucci: Being Handcuffed Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You Are in Custody

Commonwealth v. Vellucci: Being Handcuffed Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You Are in Custody

After you are arrested and placed in custody, law enforcement must give you Miranda warnings in order for any statements that you make thereafter to be used against you in a court of law. This has been the law of the land since the seminal case Miranda v. Arizona, where the name of the warnings originate. In order for Miranda to apply, a defendant must be in the custody of law enforcement and they must be interrogated by law enforcement. This is also known as custodial interrogation. The crux of many issues with Miranda is when a defendant is considered “in custody.” This is especially crucial when a formal arrest has not yet been made but you are still subject to questioning by law enforcement.

When evaluating whether a defendant is “in custody” for interrogation purposes, Massachusetts courts will evaluate the totality of the circumstances using Groome factors. The court will consider the location of the interrogation, whether law enforcement indicated to the defendant that they were suspected of a crime, the nature of the questioning and whether the person was free to end the interview (i.e. whether an arrest terminates the interview).

Being placed in handcuffs alone is not sufficient. 

The question of when a defendant is “in custody” was recently addressed in Commonwealth v. Vellucci. There, the Appeals Court ruled that custodial interrogation was not present when a defendant was placed in handcuffs on the side of the road and asked “[W]hat happened, what was going on?” by the officer. The court explained that all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter must be examined in order to find custodial interrogation--being placed in handcuffs alone is not sufficient. In Massachusetts, courts consider the location of the interrogation, whether law enforcement indicated to the defendant that they were suspected of a crime, the nature of the questioning, and whether the person was free to end the interview (i.e. whether an arrest terminates the interview).

In Velluci, the court found that the reason for the handcuffs was because the defendant had exited his vehicle without being asked and “appeared to be ‘frustrated and aggressive’” as he approached the officer. The court further stated that the questioning took place on a public way, and that there was no evidence that the officer indicated that the defendant was the suspect in any criminal activity. Finally, the fact that the handcuffs were removed so that the defendant could complete field sobriety tests favored a finding that the defendant was not yet “in custody.”

The Court compares this case to Commonwealth v. Spring, where custodial interrogation was found after a defendant was removed from his vehicle, handcuffed, and then placed in the back of the police cruiser where he was questioned by police. The court found that this combination of being placed in handcuffs and placed in the back of the cruiser gave rise to “the level of custody associated with formal arrest,” and Miranda warnings were required. The court expressed that the back seat of a police cruiser is a “coercive location” for questioning, and the defendant’s statements were suppressed.

If you are charged with OUI and made incriminating statements to police before you were given Miranda warnings, the prosecutor may not be allowed to use your statements against you. It is important that you have your case evaluated by an experienced attorney. Call the Law Offices of Joseph D. Bernard for a case evaluation, free of charge or obligation. Trust a Massachusetts OUI attorney to fight for your rights.

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