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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nevada Supreme Court Applies Quarles's Public Safety Exception

By Professor Katherine Kruse

In Lamb v. State, 251 P.3d 700 (Nev. 2011), the Nevada Supreme Court applied the public safety exception of New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984), which permits officers to ask a suspect questions without first giving Miranda warnings if they reasonably believe it is necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public. In Quarles, the police apprehended the suspect in an armed rape in the supermarket into which he had fled. He had an empty shoulder holster but no gun. After handcuffing him but before giving him Miranda warnings, the police questioned him about the location of the gun.

In Lamb, the police apprehended Lamb in the fatal shooting murder of his sister, and were holding him in handcuffs outside his own apartment while they awaited a search warrant. Without first giving him Miranda warnings, police asked him about the presence of people, dogs or weapons in the apartment. Lamb answered "no" to the first two questions. In response to the third question, he said, "I have a revolver but I found it." At trial, Lamb sought to suppress that statement. The Court applied the public safety exception in Quarles. Although noting that this case differs from Quarles in that here, the source of concern was officer safety within a private apartment, rather than the public safety concern of an unattended weapon in a public place, the Court ruled that this distinction does not make a difference. The scope of the exception derives from the exigency which justifies it, and here the exigency was based on officer safety. "While the question is close," the Court held, "we agree with the district court that Lamb being handcuffed did not neutralize the emergent risk to the police of the protective sweep and/or search they were about to conduct, or convert their quick questions about people, dogs, or weapons from self-protective to investigatory."