Perez v. People.
2021 CO 5. No. 19SC356. Criminal Law—Miranda Warnings—Public Safety Exception to Miranda.
January 19, 2021
As defendant was being arrested after a lengthy foot pursuit, the arresting officer found two live shotgun shells in defendant’s pocket. The officer asked, “Where’s the gun?” Defendant responded that he had thrown the gun away. Defendant was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a previous offender (POWPO). At a suppression hearing, defendant argued that his answer should be suppressed because the statement was obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Ultimately, defendant’s answer to the question was admitted at trial under the public safety exception to Miranda, and he was convicted. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the public safety exception did not apply but the error was harmless.
Defendant petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari review. Whether the public safety exception applies turns on whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer’s questioning relates to an objectively reasonable need to protect the public from immediate danger, not whether the officer had “every reason to believe” that a weapon was in play. Moreover, whether an officer was aware of the existence of a potential weapon at the time of dispatch is not dispositive; the relevant time to evaluate whether there was an objectively reasonable need to protect the public is when the officer asked the question. Accordingly, the Court held that the public safety exception applied and affirmed on other grounds.