Rorie A. Norton


In October 1984, the Burger Court set forth an exception to the Miranda doctrine in New York v. Quarles permitting officers to intentionally abstain from administering Miranda warnings to suspects where a threat to the safety of the public or officers exists. However, latent ambiguity arising from the Quarles decision authored by Justice William Rehnquist has resulted in a split among the federal courts of appeals as to what constitutes a “public safety threat.” Some courts broadly extend the Quarles exception to inherently dangerous situations, including the threat of an officer mishandling an undiscovered weapon. Other courts narrowly apply Quarles to exigent circumstances where there is actual evidence that a suspect or other third party could inflict immediate harm to officers or the public. As the only exception permitting an intentional violation of Miranda, this circuit split concerning the scope of the Quarles exception poses a substantial threat to the ongoing role of Miranda in the criminal justice system. In light of this conflict and the possible repercussions, this Note endorses the narrow approach as the most consistent with the language and intent of Quarles. It further proposes a formal, three-prong test for applying the Quarles exception that requires officers to have actual knowledge of an immediate threat, with all pre-Miranda questioning of a suspect objectively evaluated to ensure that it is narrowly tailored to that threat. Finally, this Note concludes that the proposed three-prong test is the best method to ensure uniformity in the application of Quarles and to prevent the exception from threatening the integrity of the Miranda doctrine.

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