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2 Step Miranda Technique Undoes Sentence for Felon with Firearms

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 06, 2015 3:52 PM

After Leslie Ashmore, a convicted felon, was found in possession of firearms, he was tried for violating federal law and sentenced to 20 years in prison. On appeal however, he earned a new trial, since the court had improperly introduced evidence that was obtained through the use of a two step Miranda technique meant to undermine the effectiveness of Ashmore's Miranda rights.

One October night, police found Ashmore passed out in his vehicle, alongside drug paraphernalia. A search of the car revealed two firearms, safely tucked away in a lock box for which Ashmore had the key. Two weeks later, a team of 10 to 20 officers, including the city's SWAT time, was deployed to arrest Ashmore. Special Agent Jamie Jenkins questioned Ashmore as to whether there were any guns in the car he was arrested in -- before he received his Miranda warnings.

Two Step Interrogation, Two Competing Tests

After guns were found, Ashmore was read his Miranda rights and answered a follow-up question on whether the guns were loaded. The district court suppressed evidence related to his statements before being Mirandized, but allowed statements given afterwards, finding the questions would have been asked regardless of whether Ashmore had answered the first questions or not.

On appeal, the Sixth waded into the Miranda morass. Under Missouri v. Seibert, Ashmore's post-Miranda statements must be excluded. In Seibert, the Supreme Court rejected the use of "mid-stream" Mirandizing, where an officer reads an offender their rights after they have confessed, then attempts to re-solicit the confession. Seibert is one of those delightfully messy cases where the court agrees on the outcome, but splits on its reasoning. A four justice plurality argues that the test of admissibility should be whether the circumstances surrounding the Miranda warnings allowed them to function "effectively." They propose five factors in making that determination.

Kennedy, off on his own, rejected that approach. Instead, post-Miranda statements relating to pre-Miranda ones should be surprised if two step interrogation had been deliberately undertaken to undermine the effectiveness of the warnings.

No Matter the Test, You're Not Passing

Applying both tests, the Sixth found that Ashmore's post-Miranda statements should be excluded. Agent Jenkins' "question-first, Mirandize later tactic" prevented the warnings from operating effectively. Ashmore had no real choice about giving an admissible statement. Each of the five factors the plurality proposed supported suppression.

Similarly, under Kennedy's approach, Ashmore's statements had to be rejected. His deliberateness test, which examines whether two-step interrogation was calculated to undermine the effectiveness of Miranda, was met here. The objective evidence shows that Jenkins sought to solicit a confession before Ashmore was informed of his rights.

The court then vacated Ashmore's conviction and remanded for a new trial, where non of his post-Miranda statements will be admissible.

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