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Howes v. Randall Lee Fields, USSC No. 10-680, Cert. Granted 1/24/11


Decision below (617 F.3d 813 (6th Cir 2010))

Question Presented (by Scotusblog):

Whether this Court’s clearly established precedent under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 holds that a prisoner is always “in custody” for purposes of Miranda any time that prisoner is isolated from the general prison population and questioned about conduct occurring outside the prison regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

Cert petition

Brief in opposition

Petitioner’s reply

Scotusblog page

The grant appears to raise the recurrent problem of whether Miranda warnings are always and necessarily required when someone already incarcerated is interrogated by the police on a different offense. Relevant Wisconsin authority, then, would be State v. Tonnie D. Armstrong, 223 Wis.2d 331, 588 N.W.2d 606 (1999) (“a person who is incarcerated is per se in custody for purposes of Miranda“; Armstrong therefore entitled to warnings when the officers interviewed him at the jail where he was being held on earlier case):

¶ 33. The State argues that Armstrong was not “in custody” when he made his oral statements, and therefore, his statements are admissible even in the absence of Mirandawarnings. Since there was no change in Armstrong’s custodial status concurrent with the time at which officers arguably began interrogating Armstrong, the State reasons, Armstrong was not “in custody” because he was free to get up out of the jailhouse interview room and walk back to his cell.

¶ 34. We reject this argument as directly contrary to Mathis and its Wisconsin counterpart,Schimmel v. State, 84 Wis. 2d 287, 267 N.W.2d 271 354*354 (1978). …

¶ 36. Today, we reaffirm our decision in Schimmel and hold that a person who is incarcerated is per se in custody for purposes of Miranda. See also State v. 356*356 Hockings, 86 Wis. 2d 709, 720 & n.5, 273 N.W.2d 339 (1979). Under Mathis and Schimmel, the reason that a person was incarcerated is irrelevant to a determination of whether he or she was in custody. The State’s assertion that custody only occurs if there is an increase in custodial status commensurate with the interrogation simply misses the point. Indeed, we can think of no situation in which a defendant is more clearly in custody, as envisioned by the Miranda Court, than when the defendant is confined in a prison or jail. Accordingly, we hold that Armstrong was in custody when he made all of the statements at issue in this case, because he was an inmate of the Racine County Jail at the time.

The outcome of this cert grant, then, may impact Wisconsin caselaw.

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