STATE v. PHILIP MITCHELL, SC 18219
Judicial District of Fairfield at G.A. 2
Criminal; Miranda Warnings; Whether Defendant was in Custody when he made a Statement to Police Before he was Given his Miranda Warnings; Whether Trial Court's Admission of the Statement Constituted Harmful Error. In 2004, three state police troopers stopped an automobile that carried the defendant and two others, all of whom were suspected of committing an assault. One of the troopers asked the defendant if anything had happened that evening that would have provided a basis for the motor vehicle stop. The defendant responded that he had just been driving around without paying any attention to where he was going and that he did not remember where he had been. The state subsequently charged the defendant with various criminal offenses. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress his statement on the ground that it was made before he was informed of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was subsequently convicted of assault in the third degree. On appeal, the Appellate Court (108 Conn. App. 388) reversed the trial court's judgment, holding that because the defendant had been subjected to a custodial interrogation without having been given his Miranda warnings, his statement should have been suppressed. The Appellate Court initially determined that the record indicated that, during the suppression hearing, the state had conceded that the defendant had been in custody when the statement was made. It further decided that, in any event, the custody requirement had been established, emphasizing that after having activated the sirens and emergency lights of their cruisers, the troopers boxed in the defendant's vehicle on the side of a highway, ordered the defendant at gunpoint to get out of the vehicle and lie on the ground, placed handcuffs on him, searched him for weapons, separated him from the other suspects and paired him with a trooper to prevent him from running away. The court opined that, under the foregoing facts, any reasonable person would have believed that his or her freedom of movement had been restrained in a manner that was akin to a formal arrest. After determining that the trooper's question to the defendant constituted an interrogation, the court went on to conclude that although the defendant's response was seemingly benign, its admission was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt in light of the fact that the trial court gave the jury a consciousness of guilt instruction, stating, among other things, that if the defendant made "false statements as to his whereabouts at the time of the offense, these might tend to show a guilty connection by the defendant with the crime charged." It explained that the statement at issue was the only statement in the record to which the charge could have applied and that, as a result, the instruction not only accentuated the improperly admitted statement, but it also emphasized the defendant's potential involvement in the crime charged. Based upon the foregoing, the Appellate Court reversed the defendant's conviction. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's decision was proper.