Criminal Law Blog

DCCA: Social security numbers may fall within Miranda’s “routine booking exception”; the government need not prove an unregistered firearm is not antique unless the record suggests that it is.


(Image of Social Security Cards from Wikimedia Commons)

Toler v. United States (decided December 20, 2018)

Players: Associate Judges Beckwith and McLeese, Senior Judge Steadman. Per curiam opinion. Ian A. Willams for Mr. Toler. Trial Judge: Hon. Maribeth Raffinan.

Facts: While executing a search warrant on Mr. Toler’s apartment, members of the Gun Recovery Unit handcuffed him and, without obtaining a waiver of his Miranda rights, asked for his name, date of birth, phone number, and social security number. Mr. Toler provided this information and volunteered that he was a former U.S. Marine. During their search, officers seized three firearms, assorted ammunition, and Mr. Toler’s apartment lease. An indictment later charged him with, inter alia, possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year of imprisonment. A jury found Toler guilty of the latter offense, based on his un-Mirandized statements to police and a certified copy of a U.S. Marine Corps court martial conviction, stating that someone with the name and social security number that Toler provided to police had been convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year imprisonment. The same name and social security number also appeared on the lease seized from Mr. Toler’s apartment.

Issue 1: Whether the social security number provided by Mr. Toler was subject to suppression absent a valid waiver of his Miranda rights?

Holding: No. Miranda only applies to interrogation, which includes express questioning and words or actions reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response but excludes “routine booking questions,” such as those related to identity. Like name and date of birth, social security number is “a routine means of identifying oneself.” Slip Op. at 8. Since questioning is allowed as to these other identifiers, “it is difficult to see any meaningful distinction that would generally prohibit a request for a social security number.” Id. at 8-9. While such questions may trigger Miranda if they are “reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response,” the question here does not fall into that category. Id. at 9. That the question was asked on the scene rather than at booking, without more, does not transform it into interrogation. See Jones v. United States, 779 A.2d 277 (D.C. 2001) (en banc)

Of Note: An exception to the general rule that questions about suspect identity are not “reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response” may exist where the information is relevant to an element of a crime other than identity, e.g., the suspect’s date of birth in a statutory rape case. Slip Op. at 8-9 (citing State v. Locklear, 531 S.E.2d 853 (N.C. Ct. App. 2000)).

Issue 2: Whether Mr. Toler’s conviction for possessing an unregistered firearm required proof that the firearm was not “antique?”

Holding: No. Although the D.C. firearm registration requirement excludes firearms manufactured in or before 1898, antiquity is an affirmative defense that the government need only disprove when there is some evidence in the record to support it. Courts have uniformly interpreted the D.C. statute’s federal counterpart in the same manner. That the registration requirement excludes four other firearm categories further supports that the government need not disprove each one during its case in chief. To do so would be impracticable. As there was no evidence that the firearms seized from Mr. Toler’s apartment were antique, the government had no burden to prove otherwise. WC

Read the full opinion here.