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Deer hunter who confessed in warden’s car was not “in custody” under Miranda

State v. Jody A. Bolstad, 2014AP915-CR, 10/2/14, District 4, (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

Bolstad shot a deer decoy from the window of his friend’s pick-up truck while a DNR warden was watching.  Afterwards, while sitting in a DNR car, he confessed to the warden and signed a written statement. The State charged Bolstad with various game regulation violations, and he moved to suppress his statements because the warden failed to inform him of his Miranda rights. The court of appeals held that Bolstad was not “in custody,” so Miranda did not apply.

The sole issue for appeal was whether Bolstad was in custody.  The court of appeals explained:

The test to determine whether an individual is in custody is an objective one, and the inquiry is “whether there is a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of a degree associated with a formal arrest.” State v. Leprich, 160 Wis. 2d 472, 477, 465 N.W.2d 844 (Ct. App. 1991) (citing New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 655 (1984)). In other words, if “a reasonable person would not feel free to terminate the interview and leave the scene,” then that person is in custody for Miranda purposes. State v. Martin, 2012 WI 96, ¶33, 343 Wis. 2d 278, 816 N.W.2d 270. Several factors are relevant in this inquiry, including “the defendant’s freedom to leave; the purpose, place, and length of the interrogation; and the degree of restraint.” Id., ¶35.  Slip op. ¶11.

None of the factors weighed in Bolstad’s favor.  The warden asked Bolstad to sit in the car; he was not forced to sit there.  The warden asked Bolstad if he would answer questions, and he agreed.  The warden told Bolstad he was not under arrest and could stop questioning at any time.  No weapons were drawn. No restraints were used.  The interview lasted between 1.5 and 2.5 hours, but Bolstad never argued that the length of the interview pressured him into confessing. Furthermore, Bolstad reviewed and voluntarily signed a written statement. Based on the totality of these circumstances, Bolstad was not in custody while in the warden’s car, and his 5th amendment rights were not violated when the warden failed to give him a Miranda warning.

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