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No Automatic Miranda Warnings Trigger in Border Stop

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 11, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You remember the days of fake IDs. Not that you ever had one; you've always been a law abiding citizen. But your friends; oh, the stories you could tell! The key to the fake ID, for those who had one, was to avoid showing it to the cops.

Today's defendant, Fake Sandra Calzada (Fake SC) did not receive that memo.

Fake Sandra Calzada flew from the Dominican Republic to John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2008 using a fraudulently acquired passport. First mistake? Flying with a wanted criminal's passport. There was an outstanding warrant for the arrest of Sandra Calzada (Real SC).

Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) flagged Fake SC for a secondary inspection border stop. While questioning Fake SC, CBP discovered that Fake SC's fingerprints did not match Real SC's NYPD prints.

Second mistake? Fake SC maintained that she was Real SC. CBP questioned Fake SC for about 90 minutes before turning her over to a second officer to whom she gave a sworn statement. Fake SC was later charged with making a false statement in a passport application, misusing a passport, and identity theft.

Fake SC challenged the evidence from the border stop questioning in the district court, arguing that she did not receive Miranda warnings before the questioning began. The district court held that the CBP officer did not have to give Miranda warnings to a suspect in a routine border crossing inquiry.

At Fake SC's trial, the government presented testimony from Real SC, who testified that she had sold her passport, birth certificate, and social security card to her drug dealer during her cocaine-addiction days. Fake SC was convicted on all three counts.

Fake SC again questioned whether she was entitled to Miranda warnings at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to allow the evidence, but for different reasons.

According to the Second Circuit, a reasonable traveler expects some compulsory questioning about his or her citizenship and authorization to enter the country. Travelers consent to questioning by approaching the border. The court also observed that Fake SC's questioning experience went above and beyond the standard questioning: it took place in a closed room, out of public view; armed guards escorted the defendant there and remained in the vicinity; it lasted for 90 minutes, substantially longer than most non-custodial views in other contexts.

The totality of the circumstances here, (including the fact that the CBP officers neither drew weapons nor used physical restraints on Fake SC), came down on the non-custodial side. The court said that a reasonable person in Fake SC's position would not have considered what occurred to be the equivalent of a formal arrest. As such, Fake SC was not entitled to Miranda warnings.

While we're concerned that failure to draw a weapon serves as a mitigating factor in determining if a suspect is in "custody," the Second Circuit's opinion is worth reading if you're defending a client on similar charges. The border stop alone does not insulate CBP from Miranda requirements.

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