1. “Does a single clarifying question by a police officer in response to a defendant’s spontaneous, voluntary statement constitute custodial interrogation for the purposes of Miranda?”
2. “Even if the answer to the officer’s question was inadmissible, the court of appeals erred in factoring admissible evidence, including the defendant’s initial volunteered statement and the fruit of the unMirandized statement, into its harm analysis.”
Pugh was arrested on an outstanding warrant after a traffic stop. He was not Mirandized. One officer remained with the car, and two others transported Pugh to the station. During the ride, Pugh asked for Officer Lopez’s attention. Lopez responded with, “Yes Sir?” Pugh said he was going to be “honest” and then admitted had “stuff” in the car. When Lopez asked, “What you got in the car?” Pugh stated “drugs” and a “handgun.” Pugh moved to suppress the drugs and gun statement; the trial court denied his motion. Pugh was convicted of possession with intent to deliver.
The court of appeals reversed. It concluded that when Pugh stated he was going to be “honest,” Lopez should have known that inquiring further would elicit an incriminating response. Lopez’s question therefore amounted to an interrogation. The court then held the admission was harmful because the statement led to the search of the car, the only other testimony identifying the drugs came from a chemist, and the State referred to the statement during closing argument.
The State contends the court erred to hold that Lopez’s follow-up question constituted an interrogation under Miranda. Lopez only sought to clarify information Pugh volunteered. Generally, an officer’s reflexive or clarifying questions asked in response to a suspect’s ambiguous or voluntary statements have been found not to be the functional equivalent of interrogation—even when it appeared that the suspect was referencing potentially criminal conduct. Under the objective “should[-]know” test, the record does not support the lower court’s ruling. There was no indication Lopez was trying bypass Miranda or that Lopez believed Pugh was involved in another offense. Pugh wanted to unburden himself, and his reference to “stuff” did not clearly signal he was going to incriminate himself.
The State also argues that the lower court’s harm analysis is erroneous. First, Pugh’s statement about “stuff” was properly admitted. Second, the fruits (i.e., drugs) of an unMirandized statement are admissible absent coercion. Pugh’s statement would have had little impact given that Pugh admitted he had “stuff” in the car and police found drugs and a gun.