Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens have a right to be free from self-incrimination. The extent of this right, including in what situations it applies, has long been disputed. Currently, courts consider the Fifth Amendment to attach when police engage in the custodial interrogation of a suspect.
Determining when police conduct amounts to custodial interrogation involves a two-prong inquiry. First, courts consider whether the suspect is in custody, or its functional equivalent. Proving a suspect is in custody requires courts use an objective approach, asking whether a suspect reasonably believed they were free to leave. If so, the suspect was not in custody.
A suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights will not attach merely because they are in custody; police must also question or interrogate the suspect. For example, the police may question a suspect about their involvement in a crime. Courts have held that an officer’s conduct that falls short of direct questioning may still trigger interrogation. Thus, any actions taken by an officer reasonably expected to elicit a response from the suspect may count as an interrogation. However, when a statement is spontaneously made, it will not likely be suppressed. A recent case illustrates this concept as it pertained to a “blurted out” confession after a traffic stop. While the suspect was unquestionably in custody at the time she made her statement, it was made with no prodding, encouragement, or questioning from the police.