Licata v. State, S18G0563
This recently decided case touches on a subject which is important in DUI law. It discusses the applicability of Miranda warnings to a DUI arrest. We have a lot of clients who come into the office to discuss the case and the first thing they state is that they were not read Miranda warnings. That can be important depending on the facts of the case but not always does that help win the case. Licata explains the law in regards to Miranda when it comes to DUI arrests and questioning. Licata was arrested for DUI and other offenses. The evidence showed that appellant’s vehicle was stopped by police because it matched the description of a vehicle that had recently been in an accident and had significant front end damage. Prior to the stop, sparks were coming off the asphalt as Licata had been driving on the vehicle’s rims. A police officer who ultimately arrested Licata approach Licata and confirmed that he had been involved in an accident. The arresting officer told Licata that he wanted to discuss the accident but he wanted to read Miranda warnings to him first. After doing so, the arresting officer asked appellant several questions about the accident and then asked Licata to perform field sobriety tests. Appellant complied and failed the test. Following his arrest, Licata refused a breath test. The trial court granted Licata’s motion to suppress, concluding that the field sobriety evaluations were inadmissible because Licata was in custody and was not informed that he had a right to refuse to perform incriminating acts, a right protected by paragraph 16. The Court of Appeals reversed. It found that under Price v. State, 269 Ga. 222 (1998) the Court of Appeals did not address whether Licata was in custody but held that the trial court erred in concluding that paragraph 16 requires police to give a warning that suspects have a right not to incriminate themselves through an affirmative act. The Court granted certiorari.
The court stated that generally, mere roadside questioning during a traffic stop does not constitute a custodial situation. First, the detention attendant to a traffic stop is usually temporary and brief, with most drivers expecting to answer a few questions and may be receive a citation before being allowed to continue on their way, while a stationhouse interrogation, in comparison, is often prolonged and the detainee usually knows the questioning will not cease until he provides sufficient information to the police. 2nd, because traffic stops are conducted in public and usually only by one or 2 police officers, there is less risk that unscrupulous officers will use illegitimate means to elicit self-incriminating statements, and the driver’s vulnerability or fear of abuse is dampened. Because of these two features, a person detained as a result of a traffic stop is not in Miranda custody because such detention does not sufficiently impair the detained person’s free exercise of his privilege against self-incrimination to require that he be warned of his constitutional rights. And here, the court found, appellant was not in police custody when he was asked to undergo the field sobriety tests. It was undisputed that appellant was not handcuffed when the arresting officer asked an undergo field sobriety tests. The trial court found, and the records confirm, that the arresting officer had not conveyed to appellant that he was going to arrest appellant. There was no coercion by the police officer, no guns were drawn, no threats were issued, and Licata’s encounter with the officer was short. During the encounter Mr. Licata’s movement was not significantly restricted. The Court cites this criteria when judging whether someone is in custody for purposes of Miranda. Every case hinges upon a couple factual distinctions so contact the Howard and Arca DUI firm for advice on how to proceed with your DUI case.