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Name: People v. Bejasa
Case #: E051308
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 04/19/2012

A person who is handcuffed and placed in a police car is still subject to custodial interrogation even after he is released from restraints prior to questioning. Appellant was involved in a traffic collision in which his passenger was seriously injured. The first officer at the scene questioned appellant and learned that he was on parole. Appellant consented to a search, which yielded two syringes that he admitted were used to inject methamphetamine. The officer then handcuffed appellant and placed him in a patrol car, telling him that he was being detained for a possible parole violation. When other officers arrived, appellant was allowed out of the vehicle and the handcuffs were removed. Appellant did not receive Miranda warnings. In response to further questioning, appellant made incriminating statements. The trial court denied appellant’s subsequent motion to suppress based on the failure to provide Miranda advisements, finding that under the totality of circumstances, appellant was not in custody. The appellate court disagreed. A reasonable person would know he was not free to leave and would feel restrained to a degree associated with a formal arrest when he was told he was being detained, and was handcuffed and placed in the patrol car. Appellant remained in custody for purposes of Miranda even after he was released from the police car and his handcuffs were removed because the removal of the restraints was not enough to ameliorate the custodial pressures that likely remained from the initial confinement. Further, police should have known their questioning would likely elicit incriminating responses because the questions reflected their knowledge that appellant had violated his parole and was carrying methamphetamine.

A DUI suspect’s estimation of time during the Romberg test is testimonial evidence for purposes of Miranda because the communication is an assertion of fact or belief that is relevant for its accuracy. During the Romberg test, appellant inaccurately estimated the passage of time. An officer testified that appellant’s result was consistent with the use of a stimulant. The trial court denied a motion to suppress the results and ruled that the Romberg test was not testimonial for purposes of Miranda. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Romberg test requires the subject to make a mental calculation and communicate that calculation to police. The probative value of the test lies in the accuracy of the subject’s estimation as communicated to police. Because the test required the appellant to communicate an implied assertion of fact or belief, the test called for a testimonial response. (Pennsylvania v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582, 597-600.) Since the test was administered while appellant was in custody and was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response, Miranda warnings were required and it was error to admit appellant’s estimation. In this case, however, the error was harmless as there was sufficient evidence that was properly admitted to support a finding of intoxication.