Too Drunk to Confess?

The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently considered whether a defendant’s confession to the police should be suppressed because of his level of drunkenness.  In Commonwealth v. Bigley, the police responded to a motor vehicle accident.  When they arrived, the police saw a motorcycle lying in the middle of the road and on fire.

The defendant was found about a quarter of a mile away.  He was unsteady on his feet and smelled strongly of alcohol.  He exhibited all of the usual signs of intoxication and appeared “very agitated.”  The police asked where he had been earlier in the evening and he said he was at a concert and had been driving his motorcycle.  The defendant then became emotional and told the police, “I’m fucked, my marriage is over, there goes my kid, I’ll be going away for the next three to five years.”  The defendant was arrested and ultimately convicted of operating under the influence of alcohol, fourth offense.

The question on appeal was whether the client was too drunk to waive his Miranda rights and whether his statements were voluntarily made (statements that are deemed “involuntary” by a judge are not admissible in court).  The Appeals Court ruled that the defendant’s high level of intoxication did not render his statements involuntary and did not impair his ability to waive his Miranda rights.  Mere drunkenness is not enough – the Court ruled that only when a defendant appears “detached from reality” will his drunkenness provide a justification for possibly suppressing his statements.

This case is yet another important reminder that nobody should ever speak to the police about a criminal investigation without first consulting a criminal defense attorney.  If the defendant here had not made any statements to the police, the prosecutor would have had a hard time even proving that he was driving the motorcycle.