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Court of Appeals Rules Statements Admissible in Molestation Trial

February 11, 2017

In State v. Rosas, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the grant of the defendant’s motion to suppress her statements to police because, while she had not been read her Miranda rights, the Court held that she was not in custody at the time she made the statements.

The defendant was being accused of child molestation and officers went to her house to arrest her on an unrelated warrant. The arresting officer testified that, upon arriving at the defendant’s house, he found the defendant and her mother standing in the doorway. The officer asked, “Do you know why we are here?” The defendant responded, “I guess I must have touched him.” She further said she got into bed with the alleged victim to console him.

Under Georgia law, Miranda warnings are required when a person is considered to be in custody. A person is in custody for Miranda purposes when a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would believe that he or she was not free to leave.

At the evidentiary hearing, the trial court ruled that the officer’s question was designed to elicit an incriminating response, and since the interrogation was “custodial in nature,” the defendant should have been read her Miranda rights. As a result, the trial court granted the motion to suppress these statements.

The Court of Appeals disagreed that the officer’s questioning was custodial, noting that the officer merely stood at the defendant’s door and asked a question. He did not arrest her, place her in handcuffs or indicate that she was not free to leave. Though the officer’s question implied that the defendant was a suspect, the Court held that even a clear statement that the defendant was a suspect would not be enough to make a reasonable person perceive that she was in custody.

Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in ruling that the statements were inadmissible at the defendant’s child molestation trial.

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