Brief Fact Summary. A police officer found two individuals in a car parked on the side of a highway. The officer thought he smelled alcohol on one of the individual’s breath and began sobriety tests.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. There is not a single rule that comes from this case.
Issue. “[W]hether various incriminating utterances of a drunken-driving suspect, made while performing a series of sobriety tests, constitute testimonial responses to custodial interrogation for purposes of the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”
Held. The majority observed “[t]his case implicates both the ‘testimonial’ and ‘compulsion’ components of the privilege against self-incrimination in the context of pretrial questioning. Because Muniz was not advised of his Miranda rights until after the videotaped proceedings at the booking center were completed, any verbal statements that were both testimonial in nature and elicited during custodial interrogation should have been suppressed.”
The majority “agree[d] with the Commonwealth’s contention that Muniz’s answers are not rendered inadmissible by Miranda merely because the slurred nature of his speech was incriminating. The physical inability to articulate words in a clear manner due to ‘the lack of muscular coordination of his tongue and mouth, is not itself a testimonial component of Muniz’s responses to Officer Hosterman’s introductory questions.’ ” “[A]ny slurring of speech and other evidence of lack of muscular coordination revealed by Muniz’s responses to Officer Hosterman’s direct questions constitute nontestimonial components of those responses.”
The majority then observed “Muniz’s answer to the sixth birthday question was incriminating, not just because of his delivery, but also because of his answer’s content; the trier of fact could infer from Muniz’s answer (that he did not know the proper date) that his mental state was confused.” Along the same lines “[t]he correct question for present purposes is whether the incriminating inference of mental confusion is drawn from a testimonial act or from physical evidence.” Or in other words, ” the question is not whether a suspect’s ‘impaired mental faculties’ can fairly be characterized as an aspect of his physiology, but rather whether Muniz’s response to the sixth birthday question that gave rise to the inference of such an impairment was testimonial in nature.”
“Whenever a suspect is asked for a response requiring him to communicate an express or implied assertion of fact or belief, the suspect confronts the “trilemma” of truth, falsity, or silence, and hence the response (whether based on truth or falsity) contains a testimonial component.”
“[T]he sixth birthday question in this case required a testimonial response.” “Therefore, because [the Court] conclude[d] that Muniz’s response to the sixth birthday question was testimonial, the response should have been suppressed.”
The majority disagreed with “the Commonwealth’s contention that Officer Hosterman’s first seven questions regarding Muniz’s name, address, height, weight, eye color, date of birth, and current age do not qualify as custodial interrogation as we defined the term in Innis, merely because the questions were not intended to elicit information for investigatory purposes.” To the contrary, the majority “concluded Muniz’s answers to these first seven questions are nonetheless admissible because the questions fall within a ‘routine booking question’ exception which exempts from Miranda’s coverage questions to secure the ‘biographical data necessary to complete booking or pretrial services.’ ” Further, “the first seven questions asked at the booking center fall outside the protections of Miranda and the answers thereto need not be suppressed.”
“Officer Hosterman’s dialogue with Muniz concerning the physical sobriety tests consisted primarily of carefully scripted instructions as to how the tests were to be performed. These instructions were not likely to be perceived as calling for any verbal response and therefore were not ‘words or actions’ constituting custodial interrogation, with two narrow exceptions not relevant here. The dialogue also contained limited and carefully worded inquiries as to whether Muniz understood those instructions, but these focused inquiries were necessarily ‘attendant to’ the police procedure held by the court to be legitimate. Hence, Muniz’s incriminating utterances during this phase of the videotaped proceedings were ‘voluntary’ in the sense that they were not elicited in response to custodial interrogation.”
The majority also “conclude[d] that Miranda does not require suppression of the statements Muniz made when asked to submit to a breathalyzer examination.” Moreover, “[it] believe[d] that Muniz’s statements were not prompted by an interrogation within the meaning of Miranda, and therefore the absence of Miranda warnings does not require suppression of these statements at trial.”
Dissent. Justice Rehnquist, Justice White, Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens concur and dissent in part. The justices concur that the “that the seven ‘booking’ questions should not be suppressed.” However, they dissent “from the Court’s conclusion that Muniz’s response to the ‘sixth birthday question’ should have been suppressed.”
Discussion. This case is a good example of how the court construes whether something is testimonial.