Berkemer v. McCarty Case Brief

Facts of the Case

An officer observed a vehicle swerving in and out of lanes on the highway and initiated a traffic stop. The officer asked if the driver had been using intoxicants, to which the driver replied in the affirmative. The driver was arrested, asked again about the use of intoxicants, and again answered in the affirmative. The driver was never advised of his constitutional rights, and he was convicted of driving under the influence. He appealed, asserting that the incriminating statements were not admissible as he had not been informed of his constitutional rights prior to interrogation. The Court vacated the driver’s conviction.




“Yes and no. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Court held that arrestees in custody and under suspicion for a misdemeanor traffic offense must be informed of their constitutional rights or subsequent statements are inadmissible. Justice Marshall rejected Berkemer’s argument that the Court should carve out an exception to the Miranda rule for lesser offenses. He noted that the police are often unaware when they arrest a person whether that person has committed a felony or a misdemeanor, and that seemingly minor offenses sometimes escalate into more serious investigations. He reasoned that carving out an exception to the Miranda rule for misdemeanor traffic offenses would undermine Miranda’s simplicity and effectiveness given the rule’s widespread, customary use by police.Justice Marshall then distinguished between the statements McCarty made at the scene of the arrest and at the jail. He held that McCarty was in custody as of the moment he was formally placed under arrest for driving under the influence, and that statements made after this point were inadmissible. He also held, however, that McCarty was not put in custody for purposes of the Miranda rule before this point. Justice Marshall reasoned that a routine traffic stop was more akin to a non-custodial ‘Terry stop’, and generally ended with a motorist’s release. He noted that McCarty was not told he could not leave prior to his arrest, and was only asked a few questions and told to perform a balancing test. Consequently, Justice Marshall held that the Ohio State Highway Patrol was not obligated to give Miranda warnings to persons detained pursuant to routine traffic stops.Justice John Paul Stevens concurred. He argued that the majority should have limited its decision to the question presented in Berkemer’s petition for certiorari: Whether law enforcement officers must give ‘Miranda warnings’ to individuals arrested for misdemeanor traffic offenses. He argued that the Court failed to follow the course of judicial restraint by answering a question not passed upon by the lower courts.”

Case Information

Citation: 468 US 420 (1984)
Argued: Apr 18, 1984
Decided: Jul 2, 1984
Granted: Jan 9, 1984
Case Brief: 1984