The Eighth Circuit case of United States v. Liddell established a broader perspective of the 'public safety exception' to the Miranda requirement, which should be adopted universally. In Liddell, the court decided the Miranda requirement did not apply and allowed statements made by a suspect prior to his Miranda warning into evidence. The Liddell court held a sufficient public safety basis existed when there was a risk of police officers being injured from the mishandling of unknown firearms or drug paraphernalia. Specifically, the Liddell court allowed the police to ask a suspect, who had been arrested and secured, whether there were weapons or contraband in the car or apartment the police were about to search. In determining the outcome, the court broadened the existing exception to Miranda as established by the United States Supreme Court 28 years ago in the case of New York v. Quarles.
One controversial aspect of the Liddell case is whether broadening the exception created by the plurality opinion of Quarles violates Miranda’s constitutional requirements. Recently noted by the District of New Jersey case of United States v. Fautz, the 8th Circuit is the only federal circuit to expressly hold such an exception exists. An additional aspect of this case is whether the circuit split developing among the federal circuits makes this issue likely to be addressed by the Supreme Court. The current split involves the 8th, 9th, and 1st Circuits taking a broad approach to the public safety exception, while the 3d, 4th and 5th Circuits take a narrow approach.
This Article provides an analysis of the issues in Liddell and concludes the 8th Circuit arrived at a constitutionally permissible holding. The Supreme Court should follow the 8th Circuit broad approach to the public safety exception. Three points support the broad approach to the public safety exception: the necessity for public safety; the long-standing precedent set forth by Quarles over 28 years ago; and the rationale for police action during a kidnap scenario.
The Supreme Court should adopt the 8th Circuit’s broad approach to the public safety exception. Specifically, the Court should hold the Miranda requirement does not apply when there is a risk of police officers being injured from the mishandling of unknown firearms or drug paraphernalia, and the risk provides a sufficient public safety basis to ask a suspect who has been arrested and secured whether there are weapons or contraband in a car or apartment the police are about to search.