Berkemer v. McCarty

PETITIONER: Harry J. Berkemer, Sheriff of Franklin County, Ohio
RESPONDENT: Richard N. McCarty
LOCATION: Franklin County Sheriff

DOCKET NO.: 83-710
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 468 US 420 (1984)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1984
GRANTED: Jan 09, 1984

Alan C. Travis - on behalf of the Petitioner
R. William Meeks - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

On March 31, 1980, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper C.J. Williams observed Richard McCarty’s vehicle weaving back and forth on Interstate Highway 270. He followed the car, pulled McCarty over, and asked him to exit the vehicle. Williams noticed that McCarty had trouble standing, and thus determined that he would charge McCarty with a traffic offense and that McCarty was no longer free to leave the scene. McCarty failed a balancing test.

Williams then asked McCarty whether he had been using intoxicants, and McCarty responded that he had consumed two beers and smoked several joints of marijuana a short time before. Williams placed McCarty under arrest. At the county jail, however, a breathalyzer test did not detect any alcohol in McCarty’s system. Williams resumed questioning McCarty, asking him if he was under the influence of alcohol and whether the marijuana had been treated with any chemicals. Williams responded, “I guess, barely,” to the first question, but denied that the marijuana he smoked had been treated. At no point did Williams or any other officer tell McCarty that he had a right to remain silent, to consult with an attorney, or to have an attorney appointed for him if he could not afford one.

McCarty was charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, a first-degree misdemeanor under Ohio law punishable by fine or imprisonment for up to six months. McCarty moved to exclude the incriminating statements he made to Trooper Williams both on the scene of the arrest and in jail, on the grounds that he had not been informed of his constitutional rights prior to interrogation. The trial court denied the motion; McCarty pled ‘no contest’ and was found guilty. On appeal, the Franklin County Court of Appeals held that the Miranda rule does not apply to misdemeanors, relying on a prior decision by the Supreme Court of Ohio. The Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed McCarty’s appeal for failing to present a substantial constitutional question. The District Court for the Southern District of Ohio dismissed McCarty’s writ of habeas corpus, but the United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit reversed. It held that Miranda warnings must be given to all individuals accused of misdemeanor traffic offenses prior to custodial interrogation, but did not clearly apply this rule to McCarty’s statements made at the scene of his arrest.


1. Did the highway patrol err in failing to give a Miranda warning to McCarty before he made incriminating statements at the station house?

2. Did the Ohio State Highway Patrol err in failing to give a Miranda warning to McCarty when he was detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop and under suspicion for the misdemeanor of driving under the influence?

Media for Berkemer v. McCarty

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1984 in Berkemer v. McCarty

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Berkemer against McCarty.

We'll hear arguments next in Roberts against the United States Jaycees.

Mr. Travis, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Alan C. Travis:

Thank you, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, I would like to restate the question presented before the Court in this case.

I believe it can be restated in two parts.

First of all, the first part of the question should be, in my judgment, whether routine highway traffic safety stops involve the type of custodial interrogation which was a concern of the Miranda court; that is, the routine, everyday, highway traffic stops.

Second... the second portion of our argument... involves a question of whether there can be a reasoned application of the judicially crafted prophylactic rule of Miranda in the case of the impaired driver, a person charged with the offense of driving while impaired by alcohol or other chemical substances.

The salient facts, if I may recapitulate them briefly, indicate that the respondent in this case was observed driving on an interstate highway by a state Highway Patrol trooper on routine traffic safety patrol.

He observed Mr. McCarty's car weaving back and forth within his expected lane of travel, and followed him for some two miles.

After following him for two miles, he caused the car to be stopped, and asked Mr. McCarty to exit the vehicle.

The trooper described Mr. McCarty as falling.

He was unable to stand unaided, and in his later report indicated that he had to be "held up from falling".

He attempted... I'm sorry... at that point... and, by the way, each of these facts were entered before the Municipal Court by way of stipulation between the parties, rather than an evidentiary hearing.

At the point that he realized the man could not stand on his own two feet unaided, Trooper Williams concluded that he would charge Mr. McCarty with a traffic offense, and the parties stipulated at that point his freedom to leave the scene was terminated.

Trooper Williams then attempted to have Mr. McCarty perform certain field sobriety tests I think the Court will recognize are traditional tests of balancing, touching one's nose, walking a straight line, and so forth.

But, as the alcohol influence report form shows... and that's in the Appendix at page 2 of the Joint Appendix, that is... Mr. McCarty was falling, and therefore the tests could not be completed.

The trooper noted that Mr. McCarty spoke with very slurred speech... he was very hard to understand... and at this point, asked Mr. McCarty if he had been drinking.

Mr. McCarty said he had had two beers and had smoked

"several joints of marijuana a short time before. "

At that point, the trooper formally arrested Mr. McCarty, and under a state implied consent chemical test statute, transported him to a facility, which in this case was the Franklin County Ohio Jail for a chemical test of his blood alcohol content.

At that point, Mr. McCarty took the test and the intoxilyzer... that the Court has heard quite a bit about in the last case... the intoxilyzer indicated a zero blood alcohol content.

At that point, Mr. McCarty presumably still not being able to function, was not released from the Franklin County Jail facility, and the officer began to fill out what is known as the Alcohol Influence Report Form.

Again, that is in the Joint Appendix, both in its original state and, at the suggestion of the Clerk, in a typewritten facsimile for ease of reading.

The trooper filled out the report form which is a pro forma line item, fill-in-the-blanks form, if you will.

It is a statement on the front page, as the Court will note, which recounts the date and time of the offense, the trooper's observations of the driving offense that he had witnessed the man traveling for two miles and so forth, could not stand on his feet.

It recounted his statements at the scene of the traffic offense... excuse me... to the effect that he had two beers and smoked several marijuana cigarettes.

And then on the back of the form, as the Court will note, the trooper inquired of Mr. McCarty as to whether he knew what day it was, what date it was, what time it was, and the various responses are down there.

That's on... those questions are asked at the scene?

Alan C. Travis:

No, sir.