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Miranda and Reasonableness

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 42 Issue: 3 Dated: Summer 2005 Pages: 1011-1025
Peter B. Rutledge
Date Published
15 pages
This paper explores a common issue, the meaning of reasonableness in Miranda case law, which connects the recent Supreme Court decisions in Yarborough v. Alvarado and Missouri v. Seibert.
Decisions in Yarborough v. Alvarado and Missouri v. Seibert shed light on the state of the Miranda doctrine in the U.S. Supreme Court. In Yarborough, a small majority held that a State appellate court’s failure to consider a defendant’s age and history of contact with law enforcement in its “custody” determination was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court case law. In Seibert, a fractured majority affirmed the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision to exclude a defendant’s confession where police officers strategically withheld a suspect’s Miranda rights at the beginning of a custodial interrogation. The two cases share an important common thread; both concerned whether an actor’s subjective understanding was relevant to the doctrinal inquiry or whether the inquiry should be guided by purely objective factors. Implications from both cases involve the Court’s willingness to rely on subjective or objective tests to shape the formation of the Miranda doctrine, specifically reasonableness. This paper explores positive lessons on how the Court confronts reasonableness determinations and normative lessons on how it should do so. As a positive lesson, the opinions in both cases reflect the major policies in legal academic debates over how reasonableness should be determined, and as a normative lesson, the different policies underlying various doctrinal questions, such as custody or remedies support different treatments of the reasonableness question with sensitivity to the individual defendant’s characteristics in the custody context and giving relevance to the officer’s intent to the remedial one.