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Court of Appeal, Third District, California.

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Tyrone Anthony CHATMAN, Defendant and Appellant.

No. C022602.

Decided: February 25, 1998

Laurance S. Smith, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, New Castle, for Plaintiff and Appellant. Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General, George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Stan Cross, Mary Jo Graves and Michael A. Canzoneri, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

This is a Miranda case.  (Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694.)   The issue is whether jail nurses can ask arrestees about drug usage as part of routine medical screening.   They can, under the “public safety” exception to Miranda.


 Defendant was charged with possession of a controlled substance.  (Health & Saf.Code, § 11350, subd. (a).)  Before defendant was admitted to jail and before he received a Miranda warning, a jail nurse asked a series of screening questions from a standard form.   All arrestees coming to the county jail are asked questions to “[s]creen out anybody that [sic] needs medical attention or [has] any unusual problems.”

In response to a question about the “[t]ype, amount, and last [use]” of controlled substances, defendant said he used one and one-half grams of heroin about two hours before his arrest.

The defendant objected that his statement was taken in violation of Miranda;  he does not contend that it was involuntary.

The trial court ruled that the jail nurse was not a police agent.   The Attorney General does not seek to defend the admission of this statement on that ground.  (Cf. People v. Salinas (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 925, 937, 943, 182 Cal.Rptr. 683.)

 The prophylactic Miranda rules apply only to custodial interrogations.   In this case, the parties do not dispute that defendant was in custody at the time the jail nurse asked the medical screening questions.  (See People v. Stansbury (1995) 9 Cal.4th 824, 38 Cal.Rptr.2d 394, 889 P.2d 588.)   A Miranda violation occurs if a “suspect's incriminating response was the product of words or actions on the part of the police that they should have known were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.”   (Rhode Island v. Innis (1980) 446 U.S. 291, 303, 100 S.Ct. 1682, 1691, 64 L.Ed.2d 297, 309.)   If police officers ask, without Miranda warnings, questions that are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response, the prosecution is barred from using the answers in its case in chief.

 In this case, the jail nurse's question on current drug and alcohol usage could reasonably lead to an incriminating response from defendant, who was arrested for drug possession.   However, the rights of others may “outweigh[ ] the need for the prophylactic rule protecting the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination.”  (New York v. Quarles (1984) 467 U.S. 649, 657, 104 S.Ct. 2626, 2632, 81 L.Ed.2d 550, 558.)   In determining whether the public safety exception to Miranda applies, we ask whether there was an “objectively reasonable need to protect the police or the public from any immediate danger.”  (United States v. Brady (9th Cir.1987) 819 F.2d 884, 888, fn. 3, quoting Quarles, supra, 467 U.S. at p. 659, fn. 8, 104 S.Ct. at p. 2633, fn. 8, 81 L.Ed.2d at p. 559, fn. 8.)  “[C]oncern for public safety must be paramount to adherence to the literal language of the prophylactic rules enunciated in Miranda.”  (Id. at p. 653, 104 S.Ct. at p. 2630, 81 L.Ed.2d at p. 555;  see U.S. v. Carrillo (9th Cir.1994) 16 F.3d 1046;  see also People v. Cressy (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 981, 988-989, 55 Cal.Rptr.2d 237 [defendant's response to officer's question as to whether he had needles or drug paraphernalia on his person prior to a search held admissible].)

The Quarles court concluded a “narrow” public safety exception “will simply free [police] to follow their legitimate instincts when confronting situations presenting a danger to the public safety.”  (Quarles, supra, 467 U.S. at pp. 658-659, 104 S.Ct. at p. 2633, 81 L.Ed.2d at p. 559.)   The court eschewed a bright-line rule and stated that “police officers can and will distinguish almost instinctively between questions necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public and questions designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect.”  (Id. at pp. 658-659, 104 S.Ct. at 2633, 81 L.Ed.2d at p. 559.)   The exception will not be difficult to apply “because in each case it will be circumscribed by the exigency which justifies it.”  (Id. at p. 658, 104 S.Ct. at p. 2633, 81 L.Ed.2d at p. 559.)

Once police decide to jail an arrestee, they must consider the physical and medical safety of that arrestee, other prisoners, and police personnel.   Medical screening questions may reveal a need to provide special medical care to the arrestee, maintain close medical supervision until his condition returns to normal, or segregate him from the general jail population.   Use of a given drug may alert the authorities to an arrestee's contagious disease, potential illness, or violence resulting from drug withdrawal.   Moreover, the question relating to current drug usage may also reveal the need to place an arrestee on suicide watch, or prevent him from inflicting serious bodily harm to other inmates and jail personnel.   Asking an inmate about his current drug usage is a safe and expedient way to ensure safety since his condition may not be readily apparent to jail authorities.

The Attorney General cites State v. Geasley (1993) 85 Ohio.App.3d 360, 619 N.E.2d 1086, which held the trial court erred in suppressing evidence of police questions regarding the present medical condition of an arrestee.   Although decided under the “routine booking” exception (see Pennsylvania v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582, 601, 110 S.Ct. 2638, 2650, 110 L.Ed.2d 528, 552;  People v. Bradford (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1005, 1035, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 225, 929 P.2d 544), which we do not address here, the Geasley court properly concluded:  “The purpose of such inquiry is not to elicit incriminating responses, but rather to ensure the safety and well-being of the suspect while in the custody of the police.   Accordingly, asking an arrestee whether he has recently seen a physician, is taking medication, or has any medical condition requiring special treatment is a legitimate police concern when booking a suspect.”  (85 Ohio.App.3d, supra, at p. 371, 619 N.E.2d at p. 1093.)   In contrast in Hughes v. State (1997) 346 Md. 80, 695 A.2d 132, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the trial court's admission of an arrestee's answer to whether he was a general drug user was in error, and reversed the judgment of the intermediate appellate court.   The Hughes court said that such a question was incriminating and did not fall under the routine booking exception to Miranda.  (Id. at p. 100, 695 A.2d at p. 142.)   The court failed to consider the public safety exception.

 In our view, the issue should be decided under the public safety exception, which permits police authorities to question a suspect without first advising him of his Miranda rights under certain circumstances.   When police officers or employees ask arrestees, prior to jailing them, routine medical questions to ensure the safety of the arrestee, other inmates, and police personnel, these questions protect the health and safety of the public and arrestees and, hence, do not violate Miranda.  (See People v. Stevenson (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1234, 1238-1240, 59 Cal.Rptr.2d 878 [considering “rescue doctrine” as it relates to the use of drugs].)

II **


The judgment is affirmed.


FOOTNOTE.   See footnote *, ante.

MORRISON, Associate Justice.

PUGLIA, P.J., and SCOTLAND, J., concur.

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