≡ Menu

Defense win on suppression of involuntary statement due to improper police tactics sticks on appeal

State v. Chad David Knauer, 2017AP2243-CR, 3/22/18, District 4 (one-judge opinion; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Hats off to defense counsel, the circuit court, and court of appeals for the decision in this case. The State charged Knauer with misdemeanor theft of property. Police had interviewed him for just 1 hour at about 11 p.m. at the county jail. He admitted to stealing a trailer and storing it at his aunt’s and uncle’s house. But then police told Knauer that if any other stolen property was found at the same location they would arrest his aunt and uncle. The circuit court held that threatening to arrest Knauer’s relatives when police lacked probable cause that they had committed a crime was an improper interrogation tactic that rendered his confession involuntary. 

¶13 In Gautreaux v. State, 52 Wis. 2d 489, 495, 190 N.W.2d 542 (1971), the supreme court stated “that while mere possession of stolen property raises no inference of guilt, the unexplained possession of recently stolen goods does raise an inference … that the possessor is guilty of theft and also of burglary if the goods were stolen in a burglary.” The weight of that inference depends on the circumstances. Id. The State argues that the Reddy Ag trailer should be considered “recently stolen” because only one and one-half months had passed between the theft and Knauer’s interview. Additionally, citing State v. Woods, 117 Wis. 2d 701, 345 N.W.2d 457, the State argues, as best I can tell, that having stolen property at the aunt and uncle’s residence, alone, raises a sufficient inference that they are guilty of theft, burglary, or receiving stolen property such that a reasonable police officer could reasonably believe that the aunt and uncle probably committed a crime.

¶14 In Woods, the defendant, who was sixteen years old at the time, was arrested after he made an unsolicited attempt to sell a chain saw to a neighbor for a fraction of its value and it was discovered by police that the chain saw had been stolen seventeen months earlier. Id. at 706-07, 711. The supreme court in Woods concluded that under those facts, a reasonable police officer could believe that the defendant had committed theft or the crime of receiving stolen property. Id. at 711.

¶15 The State does not develop an argument explaining how the facts in Woods are analogous to those in the present case, and I conclude that they are not. The defendant in Woods had been in actual physical possession of the stolen property and made an unsolicited attempt to sell the stolen property at a fraction of the property’s value. Here, the State does not point to any facts that the aunt and uncle were in actual physical possession of the stolen trailer, or any other stolen property, let alone that they were even aware that stolen property was being stored at their premises, particularly in light of the statements in the interrogation that the property belonging to other people besides Knauer was stored there.

¶16 The State does not present this court with any other arguments that would support a conclusion that a reasonable police officer would reasonably believe that Knauer’s aunt and uncle were guilty of a crime based solely on the fact that there was stolen property at their residence, and I conclude that such a belief would not be reasonable under these facts. Accordingly, I agree with the circuit court that Detective Cook would not have had probable cause to arrest Knauer’s aunt and uncle and that his threat to arrest the aunt and uncle was an improper police tactic. Because there are no other issues before this court on appeal, I affirm

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Jeremiah March 26, 2018, 5:53 pm

    This was my appeal and my trial case, and as such, I have to post a correction. Contrary to On Point’s otherwise perfectly accurate summary, the defendant did not admit to having any stolen property stored at his aunt and uncles until AFTER the improper threat was made. This was the primary basis for the circuit court’s finding of involuntariness, rendering the confession inadmissible for any purpose at trial, including impeachment. The body of the post corrects the error, but the introduction should be clarified in this way.

Leave a Comment