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Oregon Supreme Court Rules Police Questioning of Probationer in Probation Officer’s Secure Office Absent Miranda Warning Constitute ‘Compelling Circumstances’ and Suppresses Statements

by Anthony W. Accurso

 

The Supreme Court of Oregon suppressed statements made by a defendant on probation to police who interrupted a meeting between her and her probation officer to interrogate her regarding new crimes, ruling that this environment constituted “compelling circumstances” under state law and thus required a Miranda warning prior to the interrogation.

Deborah Lynn Reed was on probation for a drug offense when, during a meeting with her probation officer at his office, two police officers interrupted the meeting. “One of the police officers stood in the doorway, and the other slid past him and sat down in the room,” and they began to confront Reed with statements such as, “they knew she was selling drugs again” and that “they had information that she had sold drugs earlier that day.” They “also accused her of possessing drugs as they spoke.”

Under the terms of her probation, the meeting with her probation officer was mandatory, and she could leave it only with the probation officer’s permission, which he did not give at any time either prior to or during her interaction with the police. Additionally, the probation officer’s office was located in a secure building, so Reed was not free to enter or leave it as she saw fit. Finally, the police officers never provided her with a Miranda warning prior to questioning her.

One officer requested the keys to Reed’s car, and before he left to search it, Reed made incriminating statements. The officer with the keys left, searched her car, and located evidence of drug-related crimes.

The officer who remained elicited further incriminating statements from Reed and discovered evidence of drug-related crimes in her purse and cellphone. Reed was then arrested and subsequently charged with possession, delivering, and manufacturing both heroin and methamphetamine.

She filed a motion to suppress the incriminating statements and the searches that derived from them, arguing that the officers were required to give her a Miranda warning but failed to do so. The trial court suppressed only the statements she gave after the first officer left to search her car but allowed everything before that to remain in evidence.

After she waived her right to a jury trial, the trial court convicted her on four of the six counts, and the State revoked her probation based on the statement she made and the convictions for committing a new offense. She timely appealed on the suppression issue. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and she timely appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The Court noted that, similar to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Oregon’s Constitution prohibits “compelled statements” under Article 1, section 12. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that there are “coercive effects inherent in custodial interrogations” and that a notification of a person’s substantial rights, known as Miranda warnings, “serve to counteract ‘the potentiality for compulsion’ and ensure that if an individual makes a statement during a custodial interrogation the statement is ‘the product of free choice.’” Quoting Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

However, the Court explained that the “Article 1, section 12, requirement that police officers inform individuals of their rights prior to certain interrogations is similar to, but broader than, the requirements under the federal constitution established in [Miranda].” See State v. McAnulty, 338 P.3d 653 (Ore. 2014); State v. Roble-Baker, 136 P.3d 22 (Ore. 2006); State v. Magee, 744 P.2d 250 (Ore. 1987). “Before questioning, police must give Miranda warnings to a person who is in full custody or in circumstances that create a setting which judges would and officers should recognize to be compelling,” the Court stated. See McAnulty.  

In determining whether an encounter constitutes “compelling circumstances,” if not custodial, the Court stated that Oregon courts consider several non-exclusive factors, including: “(1) the length of the encounter, (2) the location of the encounter, (3) the defendant’s ability to terminate the encounter, and (4) the amount of pressure exerted on the defendant.” Roble-Baker. This can “include whether the defendant could face administrative sanctions or other consequences if they did not cooperate,” according to the Court. See State v. Shelby, 497 P.3d 772 (Ore. Ct. App. 2021) (concluding that defendant, an inmate, was in compelling circumstances during a jail disciplinary hearing because defendant was not adequately informed that he did not have to attend the hearing and because defendant could have faced administrative sanctions as a result of the hearing).

The Court summed up the governing law as follows: “under Oregon law, Miranda warnings are required when there is a significant risk that conditions created by the state could undermine a person’s ability and willingness to assert their constitutional rights to remain silent and have counsel present during a police interrogation.”

Turning to the present case, the Court determined that three factors were determinative of whether Reed faced compelling circumstances during the police interrogation. First, she was in a police-dominated environment – a small room with police officers and a probation officer. See Miranda (describing manuals that advise investigators to conduct interrogations in their offices because the location “suggests the invincibility of the forces of law”).

Second, Reed was not free to leave without permission from the probation officer, both because her probation conditions required her compliance and because the probation office was a secure environment, so “she could not move around the probation office alone.”

Third, the Court wrote, “the pressure exerted on defendant was significant.” The police officers “displayed an air of confidence in her guilt and posited her guilt as a fact.”

“A reasonable person in defendant’s position,” the Court reasoned, “would have recognized that (1) if she did not answer the police officers’ questions, her probation officer could repeat the questions; (2) if she did not answer her probation officer, he could arrest her for violating a condition of her probation; and (3) if a court found that she had violated her probation, it could send her to prison for up to 20 months.”

The Court also noted that, even under federal law, probationers cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves. See Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420 (1984) (where the “invocation of the privilege [against compelled self-incrimination] would lead to revocation of probation, the probationer’s answers would be deemed compelled and inadmissible in a criminal prosecution”); United States v. Saechao, 418 F.3d 1073 (9th Cir. 2005).

Thus, the Court concluded that Reed’s entire encounter with the police – not just the latter half – was an environment where she was compelled to provide a statement absent a Miranda warning.

Accordingly, the Court reversed her conviction and remanded the case to the trial court to grant her suppression motion in whole. See: State v. Read, 538 P.3d 195 (Ore. 2023).

Editor’s note: Anyone with an interest in the issue of “compelled circumstances” under Oregon law is encouraged to read the Court’s full opinion.

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Related legal case

State v. Reed

 

 

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