Brief Fact Summary. After being stopped and frisked, revealing an empty shoulder holster, respondent Benjamin Quarles said “the gun is over there” in response to an officer’s question about its whereabouts. Only then did the officer give the respondent his Miranda warnings.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. There is a public safety exception to the requirement that Miranda warnings be given before a suspect’s answers can be admitted into evidence.
Issue. Is there an exception to the requirement that a suspect be read their Miranda rights before their answers can be admitted into evidence when the officer’s aims in questioning are to insure that no danger to the public results from concealment of a weapon?
Held. Yes. Reverse the decision of the lower court to suppress the gun and statement.
Under these circumstances, there are strong public safety concerns justifying the court creating an exception to the requirement that officers provide Miranda warnings before asking questions. The officer’s trying to retrieve a weapon he knew was somewhere nearby so that no accomplice or customer would pick it up and start shooting protected the public, and this type of action should not be discouraged.
Although admittedly this caveat may cloud the Miranda rule, police officers have the ability to distinguish when this exception should apply.
His motivation in asking where the gun was is not at issue in this case.
Dissent. Justice Thurgood Marshall dissented by saying that this statement violated the Fifth Amendment protection versus coerced self-incrimination because it was possible for the officers in this situation to advise the respondent of his right to remain silent and his right to counsel.
Concurrence. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor dissented in part and concurred in part by saying that the gun should have been admitted but not the statement. Nontestimonial evidence from informal custodial interrogations in violation of Miranda is not required to be excluded.
Discussion. This decision is important in that it shows a conviction that Miranda warnings were separate from the Fifth Amendment. However, its greatest significance may be however in that it reduced the bright line rules of Miranda in creating a somewhat vague “public safety” exception.