Custodial interrogation refers to the questioning of a detained person by the police in connection with a criminal investigation. A person is considered to be detained not only when under arrest but also whenever free not to leave.

How is Custodial Interrogation Specifically Defined?

The term “custody” typically refers to situations in which a person has been placed under formal arrest or if the person’s freedom of movement has been restrained to the extent that the situation has become a formal arrest. Custodial interrogation is determined by the “reasonable person standard”.

This means that whether a situation is custodial interrogation is determined not by the individual’s or police officer’s personal feelings about whether or not the individual was in custody but rather whether or not an average person would feel free to end the interrogation and leave the scene.

One example would be that a person is walking down the street when the police stop that individual and begin questioning. The situation may not be considered custodial interrogation if that person believed that they were free to go at any time during the questioning. But it would be considered custodial interrogation if the police blocked off that person’s path or restricted that person’s movement by force while questioning them.

What are My Rights During Custodial Interrogation?

Before questioning someone in custody, a police officer must provide them with a  Miranda warning. A Miranda warning has the following elements:

  • It informs the person of their right to an attorney during the questioning process; and
  • It informs individuals that they have the right to remain silent and that anything they say can be used against them in a court of law.

Whether or not a person is in custody and whether or not they have been informed of their Miranda rights can play a major role in terms of how the case is resolved. If a law enforcement officer does not inform individuals of their Miranda rights while taking them into custody, this can mean that any confessions or information which is obtained from the interrogation cannot be used against the individual in court.

But this is not always the case as law enforcement can find other means of using this evidence in court, especially if they have evidence of the crime provided by another source. At any time during a custodial interrogation, you have the right to stop answering questions and demand an attorney.

If law enforcement continues to question or coerce you after you have invoked your right to an attorney, then most often, any confession or evidence which is obtained from the interrogation will not be permitted to be used in a court of law.

Even after you have waived your right to an attorney, you can invoke this right again at any time. However, if you do change your mind during the custodial interrogation and decide to use your right to an attorney, your request must be explicit and not ambiguous. If your request is ambiguous, the police may continue with the interrogation without violating your Miranda rights.

Once a person has clearly communicated to the police that they do not wish to continue speaking until their lawyer is present, at that point the questioning must stop and you will be provided with the opportunity to speak with an attorney.

After a reasonable amount of time, the law enforcement officers may return and begin to ask you questions again but they can continue the questioning only when the attorney is present. If you have not talked to an attorney yet, you may continue to refuse to answer questions until you have obtained legal assistance.

When is Law Enforcement Required to Give a Miranda Warning?

Law enforcement officers are only required to read Miranda warnings to an individual before custodial interrogations and they do not have to read Miranda rights every time they talk to a defendant. If an individual is not under arrest or in custody, police officers are not required to read them their Miranda rights.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you have questions about whether a police interrogation was custodial and whether your rights were properly observed, or if you know that you were not given Miranda warnings and were improperly interrogated while in custody, then it is in your best interest to contact a criminal lawyer.