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Suspect was free to leave, ‘Miranda’ warnings not needed

Although the police were not required to give Miranda warnings to defendant before questioning him while executing a search warrant, the warnings provided were constitutionally sufficient.


Defendant Spinner’s father-in-law was a murder victim. Spinner and the victim’s daughter, Tamara, were estranged at the time. Spinner was staying with his brother. The day after the murder, Aug. 4, Spinner initially refused a police request to come to the station. He voluntarily went the next day, Aug. 5, but provided no information.

Later that day, Milnor and other policer officers executed a search warrant at the brother’s home. Milnor questioned Spinner in the home’s carport. Before doing so, he gave Spinner this Miranda warning:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you’re being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any question and if you wish one. And I always caveat that with: ‘If you’re charged with a crime.’ You can decide at any time to exercise any of these rights and stop answering questions or to stop answering — making any statements.”

There was no evidence that Spinner was restrained in any way or that he did not cooperate with Milnor. Spinner made several statements that the court later ruled were admissible evidence. Spinner was arrested on Aug. 7, and was interrogated twice after being given the same warnings provided on Aug. 5.

Spinner’s appointed attorney moved to suppress all statements. “The defense contended that Milnor’s ‘caveat’ (‘if you are charged with a crime’) rendered the warning contingent, uncertain, ambiguous and confusing, that it tainted all subsequent warnings and that any statements Spinner made after the first warning should be suppressed as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’”

The court denied the motion, finding that Spinner was not in custody on either Aug. 4 or Aug. 5, and that no Miranda warnings were required until he was arrested on Aug. 7. Spinner was convicted of murder and robbery. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Despite the trial court’s finding that Spinner was not in custody until Aug. 7, “the Court of Appeals assumed, without deciding, that he was in custody at the ‘carport interview’ on August 5 and went on to consider the sufficiency of the warning Milnor then gave him.” Whether Spinner was entitled to a Miranda warning before the carport interview “is a mixed question of law and fact. …

“Viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth and with the benefit of all inferences that may reasonably be drawn from it, the evidence supports the conclusion that Spinner was not deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way until his arrest on August 7. … We therefore affirm the trial court’s holding that no Miranda warnings were required on August 5.”

Spinner argues he was given a defective Miranda warning on Aug 5, which tainted all subsequent warnings. He asserts that all of his statements should have been suppressed.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that warnings “expressed in language that is a ‘fully effective equivalent’ of the warnings expressed in Miranda will suffice.” California v. Prysock, 453 U.S. 355, 359-60 (1981).

“Our inquiry is therefore whether Investigator Milnor’s ‘caveat’: ‘if you are charged with a crime,’ of which Spinner complains, destroys the functional equivalence of Milnor’s warnings to those required under the Miranda line of constitutional case authority.”

In Duckworth v. Eagan, 492 U.S. 195 (1989), a suspect’s Miranda warnings included this language: “‘You have this right to the advice and presence of a lawyer even if you cannot afford to hire one. We have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when

you go to court.’ …  The Court held that this warning ‘touched all the bases’ in Miranda. The ‘if and when you go to court’ phrase anticipated a question any indigent suspect might be expected to ask under police interrogation: ‘when will he obtain counsel?’ … Because a police station cannot furnish counsel on call, the answer depends on state law.

“Under the state law applicable in Duckworth, the phrase quoted above was accurate. Here, Milnor’s ‘caveat’ is the same. As the Court of Appeals noted, it accurately describes the Virginia procedure for the appointment of counsel required by Code §§ 19.2-157 to 19.2-160.”


Spinner v. Commonwealth. (Russell) Record No. 180583, May 30, 2019. (Court of Appeals); Bernadette Mary Donovan, Matthew Leland Engle, Shameka La-Sharon Hall, Seth Tucker Shelley, James Joseph Angel, Douglas Anthony Ramseur for Appellant, Donald Eldridge Jeffrey III, Matthew Peter Dullaghan for the Commonwealth. VLW 019-6-039, 10 pp.

VLW 019-6-039

Virginia Lawyers Weekly