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Police ability to skirt Miranda warning requirements in the face of imminent danger has been read so broadly by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it conflicts with three other circuits, according to a recent circuit decision. The public-safety exception to requiring that officers inform suspects of a right to remain silent has become so expansive in the 8th Circuit that the 4th, 5th and 6th circuits each has a more restrictive reading, according to a grudging concurrence by 8th Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender. Gruender said the public-safety exception to Miranda applies only when there is an immediate danger to the police or public, or when citizens might later come upon a weapon, creating a dangerous situation. The majority found the search within bounds and rejected the defense request to suppress statements about a .38-caliber revolver found under the seat of a car, even though the suspect was handcuffed and in the patrol car. Exception consuming rule? “My fear is, the exception has consumed the rule,” warned attorney Alfred Willett of Terpstra, Epping & Willett in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who represents Antonio Liddell. “The police can yell public safety and forget Miranda,” Willett warned. Willett said he would seek an en banc review of the opinion by the full circuit, pointing out that Gruender’s concurrence “was almost an invitation to appeal.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Clifford Cronk, in Davenport, Iowa, declined to comment. Officers stopped Liddell for playing loud music in his car. They arrested Liddell when a check showed he was barred from driving. A search turned up a bag of marijuana and cash. After Liddell was handcuffed and in the patrol car, officers discovered a .38-caliber revolver under the seat of his car and asked if there was anything else they should know about. Liddell said of the weapon, “I knew it was there but . . . it’s not mine,” according to the opinion. U.S. v. Liddell, 2008 WL 482410. The admission subjected Liddell to a felon-in-possession charge, which qualified him as an armed career criminal and doubled his potential sentence, Willett said. Willett argued that the public-safety exception should not have applied in this case because at the time the officers asked the questions that prompted Liddell’s incriminating admission there was no longer a need to protect police or the public from an immediate danger. The weapon was found, there was no passenger and Liddell was handcuffed. The majority, in an opinion by Chief Judge James Loken, held that the risk of officers being injured by “mishandling of unknown firearms or drug paraphernalia provides a sufficient public safety basis to ask a suspect . . . where there are weapons or contraband in a car or apartment.” Gruender said that while the 1st Circuit appears to agree in U.S. v. Fox, 393 F.3d 52 (2004), the decision flies in the face of U.S. v. Mobley, 40 F.3d 688 (4th Cir. 1994), U.S. v. Raborn, 872 F.2d 589 5th Cir. 1989), and U.S. v. Williams, 483 F.3d 425 (6th Cir. 2007).

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