Key point. In some cases, police chaplains may be required to provide criminal suspects with the Miranda warnings before speaking with them.
* An Indiana court ruled that a police chaplain was not required to provide a murder suspect with the Miranda warnings before speaking with him since police officers had done so a few days before. A seven-month-old infant died suddenly. An autopsy determined that the infant died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Shortly after the child’s funeral, however, his father admitted to his wife that he had killed the child by wrapping his head in plastic wrap and suffocating him. The father then went to the local police station and told several detectives that he had killed his son, explaining that he did so as an act of revenge against his wife for refusing to return from a vacation to attend his father’s funeral. He also gave two taped statements to the police admitting that he had killed his son. He was taken into custody, and spoke with a police chaplain. Prior to their conversation, the chaplain informed the father that any statements made to him would not be confidential and that he would reveal their conversation to the detectives. Despite this warning, the father admitted that he had killed his son by suffocating him. The father was later convicted of murder. He appealed his conviction on several grounds, including the fact that the police chaplain had failed to give him the “Miranda warnings” before speaking with him.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in the Miranda case (1966) that a defendant’s statements stemming from custodial interrogation may not be used against him at trial unless the state demonstrates that, prior to any questioning, the defendant was warned “that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed.” A repetition of the Miranda warnings is only necessary when an interruption “deprived the suspect of an opportunity to make an informed and intelligent assessment of his interests.”
The court observed that the police chaplain spoke with the father shortly after he had been informed of his Miranda rights by police officers. Following the Miranda warnings, the father confessed to killing his son on several occasions to police officers and detectives, and signed two statements of confession. Thereafter he confessed to the chaplain after the chaplain informed him that anything he communicated would be disclosed to the detectives. The court concluded: “Given these circumstances … it was not necessary for [the chaplain] to repeat the Miranda warnings. It is apparent that the chaplain spoke to the father just after he had received two separate Miranda warnings. He waived his rights on both occasions and rendered two confessions admitting that he had killed his son. As a result, he failed to show that any interruption before speaking with the chaplain deprived him of the opportunity to assess his interests before that meeting took place.”
Application. Several pastors serve as police chaplains, and in this capacity they often communicate with criminal suspects. It is important to note that in some cases a police chaplain may need to read the Miranda warnings to a suspect before speaking with him or her to avoid jeopardizing a criminal prosecution. It is important for police chaplains to clearly understand when they are required to provide Miranda warnings. This should be part of the training they receive from the police department. Police chaplains who have any doubts about this important responsibility should obtain clarification from the police. Shanabarger v. State, 846 N.E.2d 702 (Ind. App. 2006).