Commonwealth v. Briggs (U)

The circuit court properly concluded that the defendant should have received Miranda warnings before he was questioned by a private prison investigator while incarcerated.

The defendant was subjected to substantial restraints on his liberty in addition to those he experienced every day as an inmate, and the totality of the circumstances reasonably suggested a coercive environment. Thus, he was in custody for Miranda purposes when the investigator questioned him about 72 strips of Suboxone found in his cell.

The questioning was part of “a criminal investigation” based on a tip that the defendant had drugs in his cell. The quantity of drugs discovered suggested an intent to distribute. And the nature of the suspected offense and the questioning support the conclusion that it was an interrogation. Given his knowledge of the tip and the discovery of drugs, the investigator’s questioning was likely to elicit an incriminating response.

The prison was operated pursuant to a state contract to house inmates. Housing convicted felons who are serving sentences imposed by the courts of the Commonwealth is, at its core, a governmental, as opposed to a private, function. Further, running a prison holding such inmates is certainly a law enforcement activity by any reasonable definition. That the Commonwealth, for administrative, economic, or other reasons, chose to perform this core governmental function through the use of private contractors didn’t alter the fundamental character of the activity.


Commonwealth v. Briggs (U), No. 1340-18-2, Jan. 22, 2019. CAV (Russell) from Brunswick (Tomko).

Categories: Court of Appeals of Virginia, Opinions, Unpublished

Tags: , ,

%d bloggers like this: