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Pedersen v State – boarding a DNR boat for BUI fields does not trigger Miranda

Pedersen v. State, 337 Ga App 159, 786 SE2d 535 (2016). Erick Pedersen was convicted of Boating Under the Influence after a jury trial in Hall County State Court. Pedersen was stopped by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for operating his pontoon boat with docking lights such that the boat’s navigation lights were not visible. During the investigation, he was required to don a life vest, leave his boat and come aboard the DNR police vessel to perform Boating Under the Influence (BUI) field sobriety evaluations. He was not told he was under arrest, and he was not handcuffed.

Pedersen filed a motion to suppress the BUI field sobriety evaluations because he was not read his Miranda rights. Miranda warnings are those warnings that were enshrined in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966). The Miranda warnings are as follows: “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 an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?” It is undisputed that Pedersen was never read his Miranda rights during the DNR BUI encounter. These BUI evaluations were the only evidence against him other than DNR Ranger’s testimony about his appearance and demeanor.

Generally, in Georgia, an ordinary police investigation does not trigger the Miranda protections. Tolliver v. State, 273 Ga. 785, , 786, 546 SE2d 525 (2001). However, once a person a DUI suspect is in custody Miranda warnings must precede further field sobriety tests. Crider v. State, 319 Ga. App. 567, 568, 737 SE2d 344 (2013). Further, Miranda warnings are not triggered just because by leaving a suspect could be arrested for violating state law. State v. Mosley, 321 Ga. App. 236, 238-39, 739 Se2d 106 (2013).  The subjective belief of the Officer that he can arrest a person does not trigger Miranda warnings. Id. The Officer must make a statement that would make an ordinary person believe that he was under arrest. The standard is that Miranda warnings are triggered when a reasonable person would conclude that the detention was more than temporary pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Court of Appeals found that at no time did the DNR Officer tell Pedersen he was under arrest.  There were no words from which a reasonable person could have determined the detention was more than temporary. He was never placed in handcuffs before field sobriety evaluations. Under these circumstances, the Court found that Miranda warnings were not required before BUI field sobriety evaluations just because Pedersen was forced to board the DNR boat and motor off to perform field sobriety evaluations.

-Author: George Creal

-Photo Credit: Crest Caribbean Pontoon Boat, Wikimedia Commons. License: Public Domain

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