Commonwealth v. Cooley (June 2015)
Pennsylvania has finally joined neighboring states such as NY and NJ with respect to parolees’ constitutional rights, specifically, the right to receive Miranda warnings. In a recent case, Commonwealth v. Cooley, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed both the Superior Court and the trial court which both ruled that parole officers may detain a parolee without reading Miranda warnings, even when the questioning is related to a new crime.
Facts of the Case
In the Cooley case, the defendant was on parole for a drug conviction when a family member called the parole officer and indicated that the defendant was in possession of drugs and guns, in violation of his parole. When the defendant arrived at the parole office, he was placed in handcuffs and questioned about whether he had any guns in his home. He admitted that he did. The officers then transported the defendant to his home and conducted a search, finding guns, a large amount of cash, a large amount of drugs and other evidence of drug dealing. The defendant admitted they were his.
Subsequently, the officers questioned the defendant about the whereabouts of his car and after searching it, found another gun. Again, the defendant admitted ownership of the gun. During this entire time, he was in handcuffs; at no time was he given Miranda warnings. The defendant was then charged with multiple counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, possession with intent to deliver, etc. He filed a motion to suppress the statements he made. After that motion was denied, a jury found him guilty of all counts, and he was sentenced to 5-10 years of prison.
He filed a post-sentence motion, which was denied by the trial court. He then appealed his sentence, specifically, the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. The intermediate appellate court, the PA Superior Court, upheld the trial court’s findings—that the parole officer’s questions were allowed as part of the parole process, and the detention (handcuffing) and questioning were therefore not custodial interrogation.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed both the trial court and Superior Court and remanded the case for a new trial. The court found that the defendant had been subjected to custodial interrogation and therefore must have been given Miranda warnings. The trial court should have granted his motion to suppress. The court stated:
“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 subjected to custodial interrogation. Custodial interrogation is defined as “questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way,” and the Commonwealth does not contest that appellant was questioned by law enforcement officers; the only dispute is whether he was in custody. An individual is in custody if he is “physically denied his freedom of action in any significant way or is placed in a situation in which he reasonably believes that his freedom of action or movement is restricted by the interrogation”.” (citations omitted)
This recent opinion is a very important one for many parolees and probationers in the Philadelphia area. Those who are subjected to custodial interrogation by parole/probation officers have a constitutional right to remain silent about new charges and must be read Miranda warnings prior to questioning.
If you or a loved one was charged with a new offense after a parole/probation investigation, contact our office for a free case review. (215) 564-0644
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