New York v. Quarles, 82-1213

Decision Date12 June 1984
Docket NumberNo. 82-1213,82-1213
Citation81 L.Ed.2d 550,467 U.S. 649,104 S.Ct. 2626
PartiesNEW YORK v. Benjamin QUARLES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent was charged in a New York state court with criminal possession of a weapon. The record showed that a woman approached two police officers who were on road patrol, told them that she had just been raped, described her assailant, and told them that the man had just entered a nearby supermarket and was carrying a gun. While one of the officers radioed for assistance, the other (Officer Kraft) entered the store and spotted respondent, who matched the description given by the woman. Respondent ran toward the rear of the store, and Officer Kraft pursued him with a drawn gun but lost sight of him for several seconds. Upon regaining sight of respondent, Officer Kraft ordered him to stop and put his hands over his head; frisked him and discovered that he was wearing an empty shoulder holster; and, after handcuffing him, asked him where the gun was. Respondent nodded toward some empty cartons and responded that "the gun is over there." Officer Kraft then retrieved the gun from one of the cartons, formally arrested respondent, and read him his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694. Respondent indicated that he would answer questions without an attorney being present and admitted that he owned the gun and had purchased it in Florida. The trial court excluded respondent's initial statement and the gun because the respondent had not yet been given the Miranda warnings, and also excluded respondent's other statements as evidence tainted by the Miranda violation. Both the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in affirming the exclusion of respondent's initial statement and the gun because of Officer Kraft's failure to read respondent his Miranda rights before attempting to locate the weapon. Accordingly, it also erred in affirming the exclusion of respondent's subsequent statements as illegal fruits of the Miranda violation. This case presents a situation where concern for public safety must be paramount to adherence to the literal language of the prophylactic rules enunciated in Miranda. Pp. 653-660.

(a) Although respondent was in police custody when he made his statements and the facts come within the ambit of Miranda, nevertheless on these facts there is a "public safety" exception to the requirement that Miranda warnings be given before a suspect's answers may be ad- mitted into evidence, and the availability of that exception does not depend upon the motivation of the individual officers involved. The doctrinal underpinnings of Miranda do not require that it be applied in all its rigor to a situation in which police officers ask questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety. In this case, so long as the gun was concealed somewhere in the supermarket, it posed more than one danger to the public safety: an accomplice might make use of it, or a customer or employee might later come upon it. Pp. 655-657.

(b) Procedural safeguards that deter a suspect from responding, and increase the possibility of fewer convictions, were deemed acceptable in Miranda in order to protect the Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination. However, if Miranda warnings had deterred responses to Officer Kraft's question about the whereabouts of the gun, the cost would have been something more than merely the failure to obtain evidence useful in convicting respondent. An answer was needed to insure that future danger to the public did not result from the concealment of the gun in a public area. P. 657.

(c) The narrow exception to the Miranda rule recognized here will to some degree lessen the desirable clarity of that rule. However, the exception will not be difficult for police officers to apply because in each case it will be circumscribed by the exigency which justifies it. Police officers can and will distinguish almost instinctively between questions necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public and questions designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect. Pp. 658-659.

58 N.Y.2d 664, 458 N.Y.S.2d 520, 444 N.E.2d 984, reversed and remanded.

Steven J. Rappaport, Kew Gardens, N.Y., for petitioner.

David A. Strauss, Washington, D.C., for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Steven J. Hyman, New York City, for respondent.

Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Benjamin Quarles was charged in the New York trial court with criminal possession of a weapon. The trial court suppressed the gun in question, and a statement made by respondent, because the statement was obtained by police before they read respondent his "Miranda rights." That ruling was affirmed on appeal through the New York Court of Appeals. We granted certiorari, 461 U.S. 942, 103 S.Ct. 2118, 77 L.Ed.2d 1299 (1983), and we now reverse.1 We conclude that under the circumstances involved in this case, overriding considerations of public safety justify the officer's failure to provide Miranda warnings before he asked questions devoted to locating the abandoned weapon.

On September 11, 1980, at approximately 12:30 a.m., Officer Frank Kraft and Officer Sal Scarring were on road patrol in Queens, N.Y., when a young woman approached their car. She told them that she had just been raped by a black male, approximately six feet tall, who was wearing a black jacket with the name "Big Ben" printed in yellow letters on the back. She told the officers that the man had just entered an A & P supermarket located nearby and that the man was carrying a gun.

The officers drove the woman to the supermarket, and Officer Kraft entered the store while Officer Scarring radioed for assistance. Officer Kraft quickly spotted respondent, who matched the description given by the woman, approaching a checkout counter. Apparently upon seeing the officer, respondent turned and ran toward the rear of the store, and Officer Kraft pursued him with a drawn gun. When respondent turned the corner at the end of an aisle, Officer Kraft lost sight of him for several seconds, and upon regaining sight of respondent, ordered him to stop and put his hands over his head.

Although more than three other officers had arrived on the scene by that time, Officer Kraft was the first to reach respondent. He frisked him and discovered that he was wearing a shoulder holster which was then empty. After handcuffing him, Officer Kraft asked him where the gun was. Respondent nodded in the direction of some empty cartons and responded, "the gun is over there." Officer Kraft thereafter retrieved a loaded .38-caliber revolver from one of the cartons, formally placed respondent under arrest, and read him his Miranda rights from a printed card. Respondent indicated that he would be willing to answer questions without an attorney present. Officer Kraft then asked respondent if he owned the gun and where he had purchased it. Respondent answered that he did own it and that he had purchased it in Miami, Fla.

In the subsequent prosecution of respondent for criminal possession of a weapon,2 the judge excluded the statement, "the gun is over there," and the gun because the officer had not given respondent the warnings required by our decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), before asking him where the gun was located. The judge excluded the other statements about respondent's ownership of the gun and the place of purchase, as evidence tainted by the prior Miranda violation. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York affirmed without opinion. 85 A.D.2d 936, 447 N.Y.S.2d 84 (1981).

The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal and affirmed by a 4-3 vote. 58 N.Y.2d 664, 458 N.Y.S.2d 520, 444 N.E.2d 984 (1982). It concluded that respondent was in "custody" within the meaning of Miranda during all questioning and rejected the State's argument that the exigencies of the situation justified Officer Kraft's failure to read respondent his Miranda rights until after he had located the gun. The court declined to recognize an exigency exception to the usual requirements of Miranda because it found no indication from Officer Kraft's testimony at the suppression hearing that his subjective motivation in asking the question was to protect his own safety or the safety of the public. 58 N.Y.2d, at 666, 458 N.Y.S.2d, at 521, 444 N.E.2d, at 985. For the reasons which follow, we believe that this case presents a situation where concern for public safety must be paramount to adherence to the literal language of the prophylactic rules enunciated in Miranda.3 The Fifth Amendment guarantees that "[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." In Miranda this Court for the first time extended the Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination to individuals subjected to custodial interrogation by the police. 384 U.S., at 460-461, 467, 86 S.Ct., at 1620-1621, 1624. The Fifth Amendment itself does not prohibit all incriminating admissions; "[a]bsent some officially coerced self-accusation, the Fifth Amendment privilege is not violated by even the most damning admissions." United States v. Washington, 431 U.S. 181, 187, 97 S.Ct. 1814, 1818, 52 L.Ed.2d 238 (1977) (emphasis added). The Miranda Court, however, presumed that interrogation in certain custodial circumstances 4 is inherently coercive and held that statements made under those circumstances are inadmissible unless the suspect is specifically informed of his Miranda rights and freely decides to forgo those rights. The prophylactic Miranda warnings therefore are "not themselves rights protected by the Constitution but [are] instead measures to insure that the...

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