Dowthitt v. State (1996)

In Dowthitt v. State, 931 S.W.2d 244 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996), the defendant voluntarily went to the police station to give a written statement in a murder investigation. Id. at 252. The police then interrogated the defendant for twelve hours before he admitted to being present when the murders were committed. Id. at 252-53. During this time, the defendant took and failed a polygraph examination. Id. at 252. The police accompanied the defendant when he went to the restroom and ignored his requests to speak to his wife. Id. at 252, 254. The court of criminal appeals held that given the length of the interrogation, the existence of factors involving police control over the defendant, and the defendant's damaging admission establishing probable cause for arrest, the defendant was in custody when he admitted to being present during the murders. Id. at 257. The Court of Criminal Appeals outlined four general situations that might constitute custody: (1) when the suspect is physically deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way; (2) when a law enforcement officer tells the suspect that he cannot leave; (3) when law enforcement officers create a situation that would lead a reasonable person to believe that his freedom of movement has been significantly restricted; (4) when there is probable cause to arrest and law enforcement officers do not tell the suspect that he is free to leave. Dowthitt, 931 S.W.2d at 255. The first through third situations require that the suspect's freedom of movement be restricted to the degree associated with an arrest as opposed to an investigative detention. Id. The fourth situation dictates that the officers' knowledge of probable cause be manifested to the suspect. Id. "Such manifestation could occur if information substantiating probable cause is related by the officers to the suspect or by the suspect to the officers." Id. "Moreover, given the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals's emphasis on probable cause as a 'factor' in other cases, situation four does not automatically establish custody; rather, custody is established if the manifestation of probable cause, combined with other circumstances, would lead a reasonable person to believe that he is under restraint to the degree associated with an arrest." Id. The polygraph test was recorded on videotape. Id. When the polygraph was finished, the polygraph operator told the appellant that he had not told the complete truth about everything, and he brought the detective back in. Id. The appellant was then intensively questioned on videotape for two more hours until he wrote and signed a statement placing himself at the scene of the crime. Id. at 252-54. The appellant was then taken to the detective's office to work on his third written statement, which was signed at 3:55 a.m. Id. at 254. No Miranda warnings were given until the statement was completely written, but appellant was given his Miranda warnings three times before he signed the third statement. Id. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the appellant was not a suspect when he came voluntarily to the police station, but he became one as the interview progressed. Id. at 256. While the appellant had been told that he was not a suspect at 7:00 p.m., the court held that it was apparent that he had become a suspect by 1:00 a.m., at the beginning of the polygraph examination. Id. When he was told around 1:30 a.m. that he was not going to be permitted to leave, "This express assertion itself amounted to an arrest." Id. However, even though the appellant never expressed a desire to leave and was not told he could not leave until 1:30 a.m., he was in custody from the time he admitted he was present during the murder, around 1:00 a.m., because, after this admission, "the police had probable cause to arrest." Id. The "crucial admission" that the appellant was present during the crime turned the non-custodial encounter into a custodial one. Id. The court stated: While appellant did not admit to committing the offenses, his admission that he was present during the murders was incriminating, and a reasonable person would have realized the incriminating nature of the admission. Given the length of the interrogation, the existence of factors involving the exercise of police control over appellant (accompanying appellant at restroom breaks, ignoring requests to see his wife), and appellant's damaging admission establishing probable cause to arrest, we believe that "custody" began after appellant admitted to his presence during the murders. Id. at 257.