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Court of appeals reverses suppression order; misapplies “inevitable discovery” doctrine

State v. Mastella L. Jackson, 2015 WI App 49, petition for review granted, 10/8/15, affirmed, 2016 WI 56; click here for briefs

This decision is SCOW bait. Police in Outagamie County engaged in what the court of appeals called “reprehensible” actions while interrogating the defendant. “Outraged” the circuit court suppressed the defendant’s statements to police and the physical evidence obtained during the search of her home. The court of appeals reversed the suppression of physical evidence on the theory that the untainted evidence described in the officers’ search warrant established probable cause and that the physical evidence was admissible via the inevitable discovery doctrine.

Let’s start with the reprehensible conduct. Police found the bloody body of Jackson’s husband at a hotel in Grand Chute. They picked up Jackson, hauled her to the station, skipped those pesky Miranda rights, and started interrogating her at 6:24 p.m.  She became ill and begged for her meds and to leave. They kept interrogating her. At 8:36 she began making incriminating statements. At 9:37 they finally gave her meds and then applied for a warrant to search her home citing both tainted and untainted evidence in their affidavit. Still the interrogation continued. Somewhere along the way the police gave her oxycodone and percoset. They finally Mirandized Jackson at 12:39 a.m. (more than 5 hours after the interrogation began).  At 2:01 a.m. they took Jackson to her home, where a search was underway, and had her show them where she stashed the murder weapon (a knife) and her bloody clothes: in a duffel bag in a garbage can. She was charged with 1st degree intentional homicide. The trial court suppressed everything.

The State conceded that the police intentionally violated Jackson’s Miranda rights; that her statements were involuntary in violation of the 5th Amendment; and that the police used her involuntary statements to discover the physical evidence.  It sought reversal based on the inevitable discovery doctrine, which requires the State to show: (1) a reasonable probability that the evidence would have been discovered lawfully but for the police misconduct; (2) the police possessed leads making discovery of the evidence inevitable at the time of the misconduct; and (3) prior to the misconduct, the police were actively pursuing an alternative line of investigation. State v. Avery, 2011 WI App 124, ¶29, 337 Wis. 2d 351, 804 N.W.2d 216.

Jackson argued that the State failed requirement (1) because it could not show that its decision to seek the warrant and search the house were not influenced by the coerced confession. The officer who signed the affidavit couldn’t recall when the decision to get a warrant was made. Indeed it was signed 4 hours after the illegal interrogation began. Jackson also argued that the State failed requirement (3) because the illegal interrogation began 4 hours before the search warrant was issued and 6-7 hours before Jackson pointed to the evidence.  Furthermore, under the Wisconsin constitution, intentional Miranda violations warrant suppression of physical evidence. State v. Knapp, 2005 WI 127, 285 Wis. 2d 86, 700 N.W.2d 899. And several states have held that the inevitable discovery doctrine cannot be used to admit evidence discovered through intentional constitutional violations. See Jackson’s brief at 15.

The court of appeals showed no sympathy. It held that the police were lawfully searching the home pursuant to a warrant, supported by an affidavit that included enough untainted information to establish probable cause. Slip op. ¶25, ¶34.  By the same token, the police were pursuing an alternative line of investigation. That is, they were conducting an investigation pursuant to a lawfully issued warrant when they received tainted information about where Jackson hid the knife and clothes. Slip op. ¶26. Furthermore, the court held, Knapp doesn’t apply in this case.

Knapp did not discuss or apply the inevitable discovery doctrine.  Moreover, in Knapp, it was undisputed that the physical evidence was obtained as the “direct result” of an intentional Miranda violation.  See Knapp, 285 Wis. 2d  86, ¶20.  In other words, in Knapp, there was no evidence the police would have obtained the physical evidence had the Miranda violation not occurred.  Conversely, in this case, we have already determined that the knife, clothes, and shoes would have been inevitably discovered by lawful means, notwithstanding the police misconduct.  Under these circumstances, the twin policy goals identified in Knapp are not served by suppression and are in fact outweighed by the detrimental effect of excluding important physical evidence.  See id., ¶23 (The exclusionary rule “is not absolute, but rather is connected to the public interest, which requires a balancing of the relevant interests.”).  Jackson has already received a remedy for the Miranda violations that occurred in this case—her inculpatory statements were suppressed, and they were also excised from the search warrant affidavit for purposes of determining whether the affidavit established probable cause to search her residence.  No additional remedy is required. Slip op. ¶45.

SCOTUS has held that the federal constitution does not require suppression where physical evidence is obtained via an intentional Miranda violation. United States v. Patane, 542 U.S. 630 (2004). Knapp marks one of the rare situations in which SCOW has said that Wisconsin’s constitution provides greater protection than the federal constitution.  Note also that Wisconsin has not yet addressed whether the state may take advantage of the inevitable discovery doctrine in cases involving an intentional violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights.  Other jurisdictions are split on this point. These considerations, together with the egregious police conduct issue, make this a tempting case for further review.

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