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Detention of juvenile to investigate car crash didn’t amount to custody requiring Miranda warnings

State v. D.R.C., 2019AP1155, District 2, 5/13/20 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Police detained, initially handcuffed, patted down, and then questioned D.R.C. about his involvement in a car crash from which he had fled. The court of appeals holds the officers’ actions were part of an investigatory Terry stop and didn’t amount to custody requiring that D.R.C. be given Miranda warnings before being questioned.

Whether a person has been arrested turns on whether a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have considered himself or herself to be “in custody,’” given the degree of restraint under the totality of the circumstances, including, for instance the defendant’s freedom to leave; the purpose, place and length of the interrogation; and the degree of restraint. State v. Gruen, 218 Wis. 2d 581, 594-96, 582 N.W.2d 728 (Ct. App. 1998). From the facts elicited at the suppression hearing (¶¶3-16), the court concluded D.R.C. wasn’t in Miranda custody (¶23) despite the initial take-down, cuffing, and frisking and hour-long encounter:

¶32     The questions put to D.R.C. related to how the accident happened, was anyone injured, who was involved, who was the owner, who was driving, and who were the occupants. These are all touchstone inquiries to help police understand what happened at an accident scene when the occupants had fled. Importantly, the officers needed to determine whether there were people in need of help….

¶33     Significantly, the circumstances also supported reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot—why did the occupants flee the scene of a serious accident? Was there underage driving, a potentially stolen car, driving without the owner’s permission? What caused the one-car accident, and were drugs or alcohol involved?

¶34     At the time D.R.C. admitted that he was the driver and did not have the owner’s permission, the restraint imposed on D.R.C. was minimal. …. D.R.C. was no longer cuffed; the police never drew weapons; he was asked to sit on a roadside curb, in public, with other activity going on about him; he had been told multiple times that he was not under arrest; he was not moved to another location until after his arrest; the questioning did not occur in a police vehicle; and although another officer or two may have asked him a question, Scholten almost exclusively asked the questions.

D.R.C. argues he was in custody because (1) during the initial encounter he was handcuffed on the ground, (2) Scholten’s subsequent questioning became accusatory, (3) D.R.C. was a juvenile, and his father was not permitted to join him towards the end of the questioning, and (4) the stop lasted too long. (¶35). The court dismisses these arguments (¶¶36-41), based in part on the factual findings of the circuit court, which, based on the officer’s body camera footage (¶2), concluded the encounter was largely “cooperative” and “conversational” and “calm” and nonthreatening. The body cam footage wasn’t in the appellate record, so it’s assumed to support the circuit court’s factual findings.

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