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Prison visitor subjected to custodial interrogation in violation of Miranda, but physical evidence not suppressed

State v. Marie A. Ezell, 2014 WI App 101; case actvity

Prison guards overheard Ezell tell her incarcerated boyfriend that she would smuggle in drugs for him on her next visit. When she tried to follow through, the guards detained her in a conference room, questioned her, and obtained damning evidence.  Due to the lack of Miranda warnings, this custodial interrogation violated the 5th Amendment, but the court nevertheless declined to suppress the physical evidence derived from the Miranda violations.

Ezell told the guards that she was carrying two balloons of K2, a synthetic controlled substance. Police arrived and again questioned her without any Miranda warnings. She made similar admissions and was hauled to the hospital where it was discovered that she was carrying 6 balloons of marijuana and K2.

Custodial interrogation

Reversing the circuit court, the court of appeals held that Ezell was subjected to a custodial interrogation when the guards questioned her at the prison:

In these circumstances—having been requested by uniformed prison officers with handcuffs to move from a common area through a locked door into an interior, windowless room; being questioned about suspected crimes; and being told police are on the way—a reasonable person would consider herself to be in custody. A government employee who is not a law enforcement officer may still violate Miranda by engaging in questioning designed to elicit incriminating information for law enforcement purposes. See United States v. D.F., 115 F.3d 413, 420 & n.9 (7th Cir. 1997).  Slip op. ¶13.

The court also noted that § DOC 306.18(6) requires guards to give warnings before subjecting visitors to inspection or search.  Slip op. ¶14.

No suppression of physical evidence

Naturally, Ezell wanted not just her statements but also the balloons suppressed. But the court of appeals ruled against her. While “the Wisconsin constitution requires exclusion of physical evidence derived from an intentional violation of the Miranda rule, Knapp, 285 Wis. 2d 86, ¶83, even in the absence of coercion,” the court found no intentional violation of Ezell’s rights. Slip op. ¶15.

On this record, while the correctional officers did make a mistake by not following DOC protocol, it is farfetched to speculate that the correctional officers intentionally violated Miranda. As the administrative rules tell us, custodial interrogation of visitors to the prison is not part of a correctional officer’s job description. Suppressing the contraband would not deter what amounts to negligent violation of MirandaSlip op. ¶17.

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