Medical Rule-Out Questions Arise to a Custodial Interrogation

State v. Tiana Sagapolutele-Silva (ICA April 8, 2020)
Background. Tiana Sagapolutele-Silva was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant. She filed a motion to suppress evidence flowing from the traffic stop. The evidence presented at the hearing showed that she was stopped by the police for speeding. Officer Franchot Termeteet used his laser device to clock her going 77 mph in a 45 mph zone. She also drifted between lanes and changed lanes without a signaling. Officer Termeteet pulled her over. When he approached the vehicle he noticed the smell of liquor coming from Sagapolutele-Silva’s breath. He also saw she had red, watery, and glassy eyes. He asked her if she would be willing to participate in the standardized field sobriety test. She agreed. She was not free to leave while a second officer arrived. Officer Bobby Ilae took over the investigation.

He asked Sagapolutele-Silva eight, standardized and preliminary questions, known as the “medical rule-out” questions without apprising her Miranda rights. Here were the questions:

Do you have any physical defects or speech impediments?
Are you taking medication?
Are you under the care of a doctor or dentist for anything?
Are you under the acre of an eye doctor?
Are you epileptic or diabetic?
Do you have an artificial or glass eye?
Do you wear corrective lenses?
Are you blind in either eye?

These questions are designed to see if a medical reason would cause poor or “failing” performance of the standardized field sobriety tests. Sagapolutele-Silva answered “no” to every question. She said she understood the instructions, had no questions, and then “failed” the tests. She was arrested and confessed to drinking beers.

The district court (Hon. Judge Summer Kupau-Odo) granted the motion to suppress and deemed Sagapolutele-Silva’s answers to the medical rule-out questions inadmissible. The prosecution appealed.

Miranda Warnings Required Before any “Custodial Interrogation.” When suspects are in custody and before being interrogated by the police, the police must warn them that they have the right to remain silent, that anything said could be used against him or her in court, that they have the right to confer with a lawyer, and if they cannot afford a lawyer, one would be provided for them. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). “Whether interrogation was carried on in a custodial context is dependent on the totality of the circumstances surrounding the questioning.” State v. Wyatt, 67 Haw. 293, 298, 687 P.2d 544, 549 (1984). This analysis focuses on “the place and time of the interrogation, the length of the interrogation, the nature of the questions asked, the conduct of the police, and [any] other relevant circumstances.” State v. Ah Loo, 94 Hawai'i 207, 210, 10 P.3d 728, 731 (2000). A person is ultimately in “custody” when “the defendant is deprived of his or her freedom of action in any significant way.” State v. Kazanas, 138 Hawai'i 23, 35, 375 P.3d 1261, 1275 (2016).

. . . and they were Required here. The ICA examined the totality of the circumstances and held that Sagapolutele-Silva was subjected to a custodial interrogation when she was asked the medical rule-out questions. The ICA explained that when she was stopped, it was not just for drunk driving. She had been detained for excessive speeding—going 77 in a 45 mph zone. She was in custody for that offense and held there waiting for Officer Ilae to take over the investigation. Sagapolutele-Silva was not free to leave from the time she was stopped by Officer Termeteet. The ICA held that at that point she was in custody and Miranda warnings should have been given before any interrogation took place.

Medical Rule-Out Questions Arose to “Interrogation.” The ICA first held that asking to participate in a field sobriety test is not “interrogation.” The ICA explained that the results of field sobriety tests are non-communicative and do not violate the privilege against self-incrimination. State v. Wyatt, 67 Haw. at 301-303, 687 P.2d at 550-551. The medical rule-out questions, however, arose to “interrogation.” After all, the “touchstone in analyzing whether interrogation has taken place is whether the police officer should have known that his words and actions were reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the defendant.” Kazanas, 138 Hawai'i at 38, 375 P.3d at 1276. The ICA held that the medical rule-out questions were likely to elicit an incriminating response. They disclosed facts relating to the offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant. And so, the district court properly suppressed Sagapolutele-Siva’s answers to the questions.

How will this work at Trial? The foundation for getting in the results of standardized field sobriety tests requires the medical rule-out questions. If the foundation is suppressed, the results should go with it, right? The ICA never addressed this problem—probably because the case had not proceeded to trial. It would seem that on remand, the prosecution cannot present any evidence of the field sobriety tests because it cannot lay the foundation with suppressed answers. But that’s speculation. We will have to wait and see.


Unknown said…
It's amazing the ICA came to the right conclusion, rather than having a Cert Petition decided by the Hawai'i Supreme Court.

Popular posts from this blog

HSC Extends Right to Counsel (and a Deadline) in Proceedings Before the HSC

Police Officers Can't Testify if the Driver was "Intoxicated" in Drunk Driving Trials

Officer’s False Testimony Prompts New Trial Even Though it did not Pertain to the Defendant’s Guilt