“I’m not a cop … I’m her father.”

An episode of Castle I watched last night (“Target”) perplexed me slightly. Normally I don’t think it’s fair to subject fictional procedurals to the actual details of American constitutional law, but the last time I researched a point of procedure relevant to an episode of Castle (the law of juvenile interrogations) I was surprised to learn that the episode had gotten it exactly right. This time, I’m not so sure.

The scene: Richard Castle has a personal stake in finding a missing person, but the (wounded) suspect refuses to talk. While still at the crime scene, Castle convinces his partner to leave him alone with the suspect. When the suspect insists again that he knows his Miranda rights and is invoking them, Castle forebodingly points out that he is not a police officer, just a private citizen who’s a father of the victim. Offscreen, Castle basically goes “Dirty Harry” on the suspect (we hear screams, Castles emerges with the information).

So one reaction is that Castle’s claim not to be a state actor is highly questionable. Can the police really circumvent the 5th and 6th Amendments by bringing the victims’ families along, then putting them in a room with the suspects they wish to interrogate? The practice seems obviously suspect on its own.

But my bigger problem is with the inconsistency this would create. Let’s suppose that it’s true that Castle acts as a private citizen in these encounters where he accompanies the police. Even if that’s so, then doesn’t his presence in this warrant-execution, and nearly every home search in the show, violate the Court’s ruling in Wilson v. Layne? Wilson held “that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for police to bring members of the media or other third parties into a home during the execution of a warrant when the presence of the third parties in the home was not in aid of the execution of the warrant.” If Castle’s presence is in aid of the police conduct (plausible), then he is almost certainly subject to the limits on police interrogations; if it is not, then he is almost certainly in violation of Wilson.

Of course, there are presumably state laws against hurting people in order to extract information from them, so maybe the answer is just that Castle is a lawbreaker and doesn’t care. (“If you touch me I’ll press charges” // “I don’t care.”) The interrogation was unlawful but they’re counting on the victim not to sue and pressing charges only in French courts.