At some point in their lives, most people have had to deal with or be around a talkative drunk–a person who babbles when intoxicated. On March 30, 2012, the Louisiana Supreme Court handed down a summary reversal that should make talkative drunks sit up and take notice.
In August 2005 police responded to emergency calls of a blue Oldsmobile swerving erratically. Defendant displayed an “unsteady appearance, slurred speech, and the reasonable possibility she was experiencing a drug overdose . . . .” While paramedics treated her, police recovered a bottle of pills (prescribed to her former employer, a recent homicide victim) and a gun. “She appeared ‘heavily narcoticized’ and apparently told the deputy where she got the pills.” She did not confess to murdering her former employer. Her attorneys sought to suppress statements to police regarding the pills on the grounds that she was intoxicated. The trial judge suppressed them, but the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed, allowing prosecutors to introduce the statements into evidence at trial.
First, the court stated that it now subscribes to the rule announced in the Supreme Court case Connelly v. Colorado, requiring coercive police activity in order for a confession and/or statement to be found involuntary (leading to possible suppression). Accordingly, a suspect can be intoxicated and still give a voluntary statement in the eyes of the law. “After Connelly, diminished mental capacity, which may result from intoxication, remains relevant to the voluntariness of a statement only to the extent that it ‘made mental or physical coercion by the police more effective.’”
Of course, there is also the issue of Miranda rights. Police did Mirandize the suspect in this case, but the state high court determined that they did not have to. In 1973 the United States Supreme Court reasoned that “‘[l]ocal police officers, unlike federal officers, frequently investigate vehicle accidents in which there is no claim of criminal liability and engaged in what . . . may be described as community caretaking functions . . . .’” If police are engaging in “community caretaking functions,” as they were here, then the Miranda warnings are not necessary. The Louisiana Supreme Court has previously held that “‘an individual’s responses to on-the-scene and non-custodial questioning, particularly when carried out in public, are admissible without Miranda warnings.’” The state high court may have to determine in a future case if intoxication renders a suspect’s waiver of the Miranda warnings invalid but not in this case.
Here, the police did not coerce the suspect in any way, and her statements, though given in an intoxicated state, are admissible at trial. Thus, when someone says, “The alcohol made me do it,” that is no longer an excuse to have a statement suppressed at trial in Louisiana.
For the opinion, see here.
For further news coverage, see NOLA.com