“Question first, give Miranda warning later” and other discussions of the Miranda. Bobby v. Dixon

On September 22nd, 1993, Archie Dixon and Timothy Hoffner beat up Christopher Hammer, tied him to a bed, and robbed him. After restraining Hammer, Dixon and Hoffner proceeded to kill Hammer by burying him alive. Later, Dixon used Hammer’s birth certificate and social security card to obtain a state identification card in Hammer’s name. He used the new ID to obtain a duplicate auto title to Hammer’s car. He then sold Hammer’s car to a dealer for $2,800.

ONE. On November 4th, a police detective spoke with Dixon at a local police station in a chance encounter. The detective issued Miranda warnings to Dixon and asked to talk to him about Hammers disappearance; Dixon declined to discuss the disappearance.

TWO. The police continued their investigation and discovered that Dixon had sold Hammer’s car and forged Hammer’s signature when cashing the check he received in the sale. On November 9th, the police detained Dixon and charged him with forgery. The police questioned Dixon without reading him his Miranda rights. The focus of the questioning was Hammer’s disappearance and not Dixon’s alleged act of forgery. Dixon asserted his right to have an attorney present, but the police continued to question Dixon without an attorney. Dixon admitted to the auto title forgery but said that he had no knowledge of Hammer’s disappearance.

THREE. Later that day, Hoffner led the police to Hammer’s body. The police interviewed Dixon again. They did not inform Dixon of his Miranda rights and Dixon confessed to the kidnapping, robbery, and murder.

RULING: The Court ruled that Dixon was not in custody when he asserted his right to an attorney. The Court reasoned that the police’s failure to give Dixon his Miranda rights during the forgery (second) interrogation was acceptable under the constitution because his later confession to murder was properly warned and voluntary.

The Court rejected the Sixth Circuit’s description of the police’s technique as “question first, warn later” mainly because Dixon did not repeat a vital earlier admission during the murder interrogation; in other words, the first, unwarned interrogation did not directly enable a confession during the second session. The Court held, generally, that this “two-step interrogation process” did not unconstitutionally interfere with the effectiveness of the Miranda warnings given to Dixon.

Full case here: Bobby v. Dixon, 565 U.S. 23 (2011). https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/565/23/#tab-opinion-1963729

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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