Peoples v. State

In Peoples v. State, 615 So.2d 1265 (Ala. Crim. App. 1992), Peoples entered a K-Mart with her two children and another unrelated juvenile child from her neighborhood. While she was in the shoe department, the unrelated juvenile was stopped on suspicion of shoplifting. Peoples was called to the front of the store and informed of these developments. Peoples, 615 So.2d at 1265-66. After disavowing any responsibility for this other child, Peoples began to walk away but was stopped after store personnel noticed that she not only was wearing new shoes from the shoe department, but that their tags had been removed. Id. at 1266. Peoples and her children were then taken to the store security office, where they were interviewed by three store employees and a police officer in a very small room that could barely accommodate that number. Id. The police officer had responded to the store earlier due to the reported shoplifting by the juvenile and was asked by the loss prevention manager to attend the interview with Peoples. Id. In the presence of this police officer, Peoples was questioned about the new shoes she was wearing, as well as other items. Id. After Peoples confessed to stealing the shoes, the police officer, who had been relatively quiet during the interview, then began to question Peoples for purposes of completing a police report. Id. Following this inquiry, the officer told Peoples to turn herself in at a later time because she had small children with her. Id. On appeal, and after recognizing the general rule that the Fifth Amendment protections ordinarily do not apply to questioning by private citizens, the Alabama appellate court concluded that, under the facts of the case, Peoples should have been advised of her Miranda rights. Peoples, 615 So.2d at 1267. The Court observed: In certain instances private conduct can become so entangled with government involvement that a reasonable person would find it difficult to distinguish one from another. In such a case, the question of whether one is entitled to the protections of Miranda cannot be answered merely by observing the relationship between the private citizen and the government official as they themselves see it. Our inquiry must focus on whether "the presence of the police and/or other circumstances indicate that the questioner is acting on behalf of the police." 1 W. LaFave & J. Israel, supra, 6.10(b), p. 141 (Supp. 1991). "It is the impact on the suspect's mind of the interplay between police interrogation and police custody -- each condition reinforcing the pressures and anxieties produced by the other -- which creates 'custodial interrogation' within the meaning of Miranda." Id. The Court then held that: In the present case, the police officer's involvement in the appellant's interrogation was not insignificant. The record indicates that the officer was present throughout the process. He had recently assisted in the arrest of the youngster who had accompanied the appellant to the store and was then asked by an employee to remain in the security office during the detention and the questioning of the appellant. Furthermore, the physical surroundings and conditions of the interrogation certainly emphasized the officer's presence. Under these circumstances, the appellant could have reasonably concluded that she was not merely answering the questions of the K-Mart employees, but the questions of the police officer as well and that, for all practical purposes, a police investigation was in progress. Therefore, the appellant was entitled to be advised of her rights under Miranda before being questioned. The trial court erred in allowing the appellant's confession into evidence. Id.