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Custodial Interrogation of Parolee Requires Miranda Warnings

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a parolee subjected to custodial interrogation by parole agents concerning new crimes is entitled to receive Miranda warnings. Under the facts of this case, the court found the parolee’s incriminating statements should be suppressed.

Nathan Cooley III was placed in handcuffs and searched upon reporting to the parole office. His parole agent had received a voicemail from the father of Cooley’s fiancée, stating that Cooley possessed and was discharging firearms and may be selling drugs at his home.

After a pat down search uncovered nothing, parole agents informed Cooley they were going to search his home for firearms and drugs. Cooley became nervous and admitted he had a firearm at the house and indicated its location. The firearm was found as was $3,200, a pound of marijuana and plastic baggies. Cooley admitted the drugs were his. Back at the parole office, another firearm was recovered from his car.

Cooley was never issued Miranda warnings and was subsequently charged with firearm and drug offenses. His motion to suppress his incriminating statements was denied, and he was convicted following a jury trial. His conviction was affirmed on appeal.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Cooley was not subjected to a routine parole interview; he was handcuffed and immediately restrained at the parole office and accused of crimes for which he was not on parole. “While the use of handcuffs is not dispositive of a custody analysis, and we must still conduct a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis, the use of restraints is ‘generally recognized as a hallmark of a formal arrest,’” the Court wrote.

The pat down search uncovered nothing, but the agents did not remove the restraints. While Cooley was not informed he was under arrest, he continued to be questioned about new crimes.

“At that point, the parole agent’s conduct was the functional equivalent of that of police officers,” the Supreme Court held. As such, “the totality of circumstances” led the Court to “find a reasonable parolee would not feel free to terminate the encounter and leave the parole office.”

The Court noted that a “parolee does not lose the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination merely because of conviction of a crime.... Parolees, like any other individual, must be given Miranda warnings when subject to custodial interrogation.”

It then concluded Cooley was subjected to “custodial interrogation” that required Miranda warnings be provided. Since they were not, the judgment and conviction were vacated and the case remanded for a new trial. See: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Cooley, 118 A.3d 370 (Pa. 2015). 

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