A police station-house detention of a suspect occurs when the suspect is held at a police station. Suspects are usually detained after arrest and after filing of charges by a prosecutor. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States requires that a person may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. A detention is a deprivation of property. Therefore, a suspect may only be detained if the suspect is given due process of law.

What is Needed for a Station-House Detention to be Legal?

For a station-house detention to be legal, the police must follow a number of rules. Following these rules is required to ensure a suspect is given due process of law. Due process requires the detention to be supported by probable cause during its entire length. Probable cause is a reasonable belief that the suspect has committed a crime.

For example, if the police receive information that makes it clear the suspect did not commit the crime, the police must release the individual from the station-house detention. Due process also requires that interrogation of the suspect may only take place after the suspect voluntarily consents to the interrogation.

Once A Suspect Has Been Detained, What May the Police Do?

At the station-house, the police may “book” and then fingerprint a validly arrested suspect. The police may place a suspect in a cell, to protect the public from harm, or to prevent a suspect from escaping. The police may also remove items on a suspect’s person, take an inventory of those items, and then store the items for safekeeping.

During a station-house detention, the police may seek to gather evidence that can be used to support a formal charge. Police seek to gather this evidence by questioning, or interrogating, the suspect. When a suspect is legally considered to be under custodial interrogation, the police must observe certain rules. To be “in custody,” a suspect’s freedom of action must be denied in some significant way. A stationhouse detention is a denial of freedom of action, and therefore, a defendant is “under custody” while detained. “Interrogation” occurs when the police use words or conduct that they should know will likely elicit a response from a defendant.

Before the police may conduct an interrogation, the police must read a suspect their so-called “Miranda rights.” The required Miranda warnings include:

  • Telling the suspect they have the right to remain silent. Under the Fifth Amendment, suspects have a right to not say anything to incriminate themselves. The right against self-incrimination is the right to not say anything that can be later used against the suspect in court.
  • Telling the suspect that if the suspect does say anything, what the suspect says can be used as evidence against them in a court of law.
  • Telling the suspect that they have the right to an attorney present during questioning. This right is known as the Fifth Amendment “right to counsel.”
  • Telling the suspect that if they cannot afford an attorney, an attorney will be appointed for them.

What Must the Police Do After Reading Miranda Warnings?

Once the police administer the Miranda warnings, the police must honor a defendant’s decision to remain silent. This means that if a suspect indicates they wish to remain silent, the police must honor this request and not badger the suspect. A suspect may make it clear that the suspect wishes to speak to an attorney for assistance in dealing with interrogation. If the suspect makes this request, questioning must cease until the attorney has been provided.

Generally, allowing a defendant to consult with an attorney and then resuming interrogation thereafter does not satisfy the Fifth Amendment “right to counsel.” Counsel must be present during the interrogation.

Can a Suspect Waive Their Miranda Rights?

A suspect is free to waive their Miranda rights at any time. That is, the suspect may choose to answer questions. For a waiver to be valid, that waiver must be voluntary. A voluntary waiver is a waiver that is made willingly, without coercion.

For example, if a waiver is only made after the police threaten to use violence to obtain a confession, the waiver is “involuntary.” However, the police may lawfully use other inmates or detainees to obtain confessions or incriminating statements. As long as the suspect makes the statement voluntarily, the statement may be used in court. This is true, even if the suspect is completely unaware that the person to whom they made the statement is assisting the police.

The waiver must also be knowing and intelligent. A Miranda waiver is “knowing” if the suspect was already accurately informed of their Miranda rights, and of the consequences of waiving them. For a waiver to be “intelligent,” a suspect must understand the nature of the rights they are waiving.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer With a Station-House Detention?

If you have been subject to a station-house detention, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney near you can be present with you during interrogations to ensure your rights are not violated. The attorney can also assist you after interrogation, at subsequent hearings, and at trial.