Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

A Call to Police the Margins: The Eighth Circuit's Expansion of Miranda's Public-Safety Exception

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

A Call to Police the Margins: The Eighth Circuit's Expansion of Miranda's Public-Safety Exception

Article excerpt

United States v. Liddel (1)


The right of every citizen against compulsory self-incrimination is a principle firmly embedded in the American justice system. (2) The Supreme Court of the United States in Miranda v. Arizona, a decision that has established itself in the public consciousness, found the abuses of law enforcement so grave that the Court mandated certain prophylactic measures to protect Fifth Amendment rights. (3) In doing so, the Court recognized that it was balancing the interest of protecting individuals' Fifth Amendment rights against the potential detrimental costs to effective law enforcement. (4)

In New York v. Quarles, the Supreme Court found a public policy exception to Miranda where there were exigent circumstances that constituted a sufficient risk to "public safety," which then justified disregarding Miranda's prophylactic measures in favor of effective law enforcement. (5) An immediate and serious danger to public safety could upset the balance of public interests protected by Miranda, and Quarles's new exception sought to regain that balance. In subsequent years, the public-safety exception has undergone an expansion beyond the exigency requirement originally articulated in Quarles.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has disregarded immediacy as being absolutely necessary in finding the public-safety exception to Miranda. In United States v. Liddell, the Eighth Circuit held that the public-safety exception applies to circumstances in which there is potential harm to police officers if there is an objectively reasonable belief that they may mishandle or happen upon an inherently dangerous item. (6) In finding the public-safety exception applicable in these circumstances, the Eighth Circuit has upset the balance struck by the Supreme Court in Miranda and Quarles and ought to re-examine the exception to bring it back within its original conception--one rooted in exigency.


Antonio Ray Liddell was stopped in his car for a loud music violation by police officers in Iowa. (7) A subsequent check of his license revealed that Liddell was barred from driving in the state, and he was duly arrested. (8) A pat-down search of Liddell's person disclosed a bag of marijuana, $183 in cash, and two cell phones. (9) Liddell was then handcuffed and placed inside a patrol car. (10) While Liddell was secured in the patrol car, an officer conducted a search of his vehicle incident to his arrest and "discovered an unloaded .38 caliber revolver [placed] under the front seat." (11)

Following the discovery of the revolver, police officers "removed Liddell from the patrol car and, ... referring to Liddell's" vehicle, officer Adney asked, "Is there anything else in there we need to know about?" (12) Officer Melvin interjected, "That's gonna hurt us," which prompted Officer Adney to repeat, "That's gonna hurt us? Since we found the pistol already." (13) Liddell responded by "laugh[ing] and said, 'I knew it was there but ... it's not mine,'" and also denied that there were other weapons in the car. (14) After this questioning, the officers completed their search of the vehicle and found rolling papers and .38 caliber ammunition. (15)

Liddell was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and unrelated drug offenses. (16) The District Court for the Southern District of Iowa denied Liddell's motion to suppress his statement that he knew the revolver was in the vehicle, even though the government conceded that Liddell was in custody and had not been read his Miranda (17) warnings before police questioning. (18) The district court relied on the public-safety exception (19) to Miranda to deny Liddell's motion to suppress and thereby justified admitting Liddell's statements prior to any Miranda warnings. (20)

After the district court's refusal to suppress his highly incriminating statements regarding knowledge of the firearm, Liddell entered a conditional plea of guilty to the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. …

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