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Voluntary Statements – General

State v. Lucian Agnello II, 2004 WI App 2, (AG’s) PFR filed 1/8/04, on appeal after remand2003 WI 44; prior history: State v. Agnello I, 226 Wis.2d 164, 593 N.W.2d 427 (1999)
For Agnello: Jerome F. Buting, Pamela Moorshead

Issue/Holding:

¶10. Police coercion and a defendant’s personal characteristics are interdependent concepts: the more vulnerable a person is because of his or her unique characteristics, the more easily he or she may be coerced by subtle means. State v. Xiong, 178 Wis. 2d 525, 534, 504 N.W.2d 428 (Ct. App. 1993). “`As interrogators have turned to more subtle forms of psychological persuasion, courts have found the mental condition of the defendant a more significant factor in the voluntariness calculus.'” Id. (citing Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 164, (1986)). A confession’s truth or falsity has no direct bearing on the determination of voluntariness. Agnello, 226 Wis. 2d at 177.¶11. Agnello points to several factors that, he asserts, made his confession coerced: (1) being handcuffed to the ring in the interrogation room; (2) the deprivation of sleep; (3) psychological coercion concerning the discussion of his foster mother; and (4) the length of isolation and interrogation, including questioning by “relay teams” of detectives. Considering these factors as part of the totality of the circumstances and balancing Agnello’s personal characteristics against the pressures imposed by the officers, we conclude his confession was voluntary.

Taking these factors one at a time:

  • The court rejects the idea “that handcuffing in itself is coercive,” ¶13; moreover, Agnello was handcuffed during breaks and not during actual interrogation: standard procedure, the court says, “in order to prevent suicide attempts, escape, or property damage to the room.” ¶¶13-14.
  • Agnello never indicated that he wanted to sleep. ¶¶15-16.
  • References to Agnello’s foster mother – which caused him “to break down and sob” – didn’t “constitute[] excessive psychological pressure that coerced his confession. The references to Mary did not in any sense resemble the types of threats and inducements that courts have held to be coercive (such as threats to take away the suspect’s children or cutting off outside contact absent cooperation with the interrogation….” ¶18.
  • The length of detention before confession (either 9 ½ or 12 hours, depending on reference point, wasn’t impermissibly long, given that he waived his rights three separate times, was given breaks, and had prior police contacts. ¶¶19-20. Moreover, the police didn’t use “relay tactics” (where “different interrogators relieve each other in an effort to put unremitting pressure on a suspect”). ¶21.)

In sum:

¶22. We agree with the trial court’s statement that “the most troubling thing here with respect to voluntariness is the lapse of time” between arrest and confession. However, considering this factor along with all the other circumstances, we are satisfied the confession was voluntary. We have already concluded that the physical restraint and psychological tactics used were not coercive, and the trial court found that Agnello was not deprived of sleep, food, or water during the interrogation sessions. The trial court also found that the detectives were not armed during the sessions, they did not make promises to Agnello in return for the confession, nor did they threaten him. In addition, the trial court found that Agnello had had multiple contacts with police as a juvenile, which is a factor that makes it less likely he would succumb involuntarily to police questioning. There is no evidence that Agnello was vulnerable because of any personal characteristic. Accordingly, we conclude the police did not coerce Agnello into giving an involuntary confession. The trial court therefore properly denied Agnello’s motion to suppress his confession.)

 

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