Posted on Jun 28, 2016

In DUI cases, whether the police gave you the proper Miranda rights at the proper time is crucial. We scrutinize DUI dash cam videos to find this defense, and others created by South Carolina’s unique DUI video law.

The most important thing to know about Miranda in DUIs is this: IF law enforcement officers fail to inform the suspect of his Miranda rights as required by the video law, and IF there isn’t a compelling legal excuse for this failure, and IF your DUI defense attorney presents the argument in the right way, THEN the situation can justify dismissal. That’s a dismissal by a judge before the case ever gets to the jury. The charges go away. You go home.

Question First, Miranda Later

Unfortunately, Miranda didn’t help a suspect in a case decided by the South Carolina Court of Appeals on June 15, 2016. But the issue in that case wasn’t whether the officers complied with the video law. Instead, the Court decided whether a police procedure called “question first, Miranda later” worked in a DUI case.

To put it in ordinary terms, the Court decided “Um, no. But this case is so bad it doesn’t matter.” Here’s more on this little police trick and why the Court of Appeals did as it did in the case of State v. Matthew Medley.

As we reported before, if police get a statement from a suspect in their custody without giving him the Miranda warnings, the statement is inadmissible in court. In response to the Miranda requirement, police nationwide developed a little trick called “question first, Miranda later.” It’s quite simple: police question a suspect without mentioning the Miranda warnings until the suspect confesses. Then they give Miranda. After that, they get the suspect to restate the confession. This clever ploy allows them to avoid a suspect wising up after Miranda and declining to do the police work for them.

The United States Supreme Court reviewed this in a 2004 case called Missouri v. Seibert. To spare you the legal details, the high court declared “Not so fast, my friend,” limiting the times when police can avoid giving Miranda.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals decided how this applied in State v. Medley.

Question First, Miranda Later Applies Even to Mama’s Front Porch

Mr. Medley generated quite a bit of police excitement the night he got charged with DUI second offense and failure to stop for a blue light. In the wee hours of April 21, 2013, Cherokee County deputies witnessed him run a stop sign and speed away from their license checkpoint on his motorcycle. Two deputies quickly joined him in hot pursuit.

To cut after the chase (which we’ll cover in a minute), Medley ended up on his parents’ front porch, in handcuffs, underneath one of the deputies. That’s where Miranda came in.

Before reading the rights, the deputy asked Medley how much he had to drink. He answered, “too much.” After that, they read his Miranda rights. At trial, the State urged the judge to admit that statement in evidence, arguing Medley was not in custody when he made the statement, so Miranda didn’t apply.

The Court of Appeals overturned that decision. Thankfully, the Court agreed when an officer tackles you, handcuffs you, and pins you to the ground, you are indeed in police custody, even if it’s your parents’ front porch. Legally, the Court concluded Medley was in custody because he “was restrained and, thus, deprived of his freedom of action.” No doubt.

Unfortunately this didn’t help Mr. Medley much, due to the legal doctrine of harmless error. Which brings us to the chase.

There Are No Dukes Of Cherokee County

Despite winning the appeal, Medley still lost his case due to “harmless error.” Harmless error is an escape hatch for the state. Under the doctrine, even if the judge makes a mistake, the conviction still stands if there’s other evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Based on the events that transpired during the police chase and after, the Court found overwhelming evidence of guilt, relying primarily on:

·       Driving. The Court concluded Medley recklessly drove his motorcycle. Police dash cams showed he “drove all over the road during the high speed chase—crossing the yellow line and running through stop signs multiple times—and reached a top speed of 109 mph.” This is no way to win a DUI or a failure to stop for blue lights case.

·       Typical officer testimony. Deputies described Medley as having slurred speech, glassy eyes, the odor of alcohol, and the general appearance of an intoxicated person. But they almost always say all or most of this, in any case. These observations can be defended and discounted—but it’s really hard to overcome them when you drive like a madman to evade police capture.

·       Medley’s weird behavior. While pinned to the ground on the porch, he asked to use his cellphone. I admit this doesn’t seem to be much of a priority at that point. On the way to jail, he asked to drop his keys off at his girlfriend’s house. Maybe he mistook the police for Uber.

·       Breath test video conduct. Medley sat slumped over the entire time.

What We Can Learn From Mr. Medley

Dismissal for improper Miranda on a DUI video is likely a South Carolina DUI defense you didn’t know. For others and answers to your burning questions about DUIs, check out our free book.

Even if you have no video law defense, the video is key to your defense. It makes it that much more important to have a trained professional point out the facts the officers misinterpreted and the facts that help you. And you absolutely need someone familiar with the law to win your case by pointing out what the officers did wrong in their investigation. That’s why these videos are so important and why you need an experienced eye to view them and present your case the right way. If you’re wondering how that can be done, call us at 888-230-1841 for a free strategy session to discuss it.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.