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Miranda – “Custodial Interrogation”; Harmless Error

State v. Randy L. Martin, 2012 WI 96, reversing unpublished decisioncase activity

Miranda – “Custodial Interrogation”  

Martin was arrested for disorderly conduct and handcuffed at the scene of an otherwise unrelated incident (¶6, id. n. 6). Search of his car yielded a gun. When an officer asked him, Martin denied ownership. The officer then prepared to arrest Henry, Martin’s companion, for CCW, and Martin asked if Henry would be released if Martin said the gun was his. The officer said that he didn’t want a false admission, but that Martin should be a “stand-up guy” and admit it if the gun was his. Martin said the gun belonged to him and Henry should be (¶11). Martin wasn’t given Miranda warnings during this interaction. The court holds that his statements were the product of custodial interrogation and therefore should have been suppressed.


¶33  The first question is whether Martin was in custody for Miranda purposes during his exchange with Smith.  Law enforcement has custody over a suspect within the meaning of Miranda where a reasonable person would not feel free to terminate the interview and leave the scene.  Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995).

¶34  We recognize that the use of handcuffs does not in all cases render a suspect in custody for Miranda purposes. Reasoning from that fact, the State submits that Martin was not in custody when he made the inculpatory statements but rather subject to a “temporary roadside detention.”  While it is true that Miranda warnings are not required during certain types of traffic stops, this was not such a circumstance.  On the contrary, Fidler testified that when he placed handcuffs on Martin he was arresting him for disorderly conduct.  Because “the safeguards prescribed by Miranda become applicable as soon as the suspect’s freedom of action is curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest,” Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 440 (1984) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), and because Martin had been placed under arrest, and was in handcuffs[23] and being questioned by the police (but not as part of an investigative stop or for officer safety reasons), his freedom was so curtailed.  See, e.g., State v. Eli, 273 P.3d 1196, 1208 (Hawai’i 2012) (“Defendant had been placed under arrest, and therefore was deprived of his freedom in a significant way” and thus in custody); State v. Glass, 136 S.W.3d 496, 508-09 (Mo. 2004) (en banc) (“A custodial interrogation occurs only when the suspect is formally arrested or is subject to arrest-like restraints.”) (emphasis added) (citation omitted); United States v. Lemon, 550 F.2d 467, 471 (9th Cir. 1977) (“Appellant clearly was in custody from the time he was placed under arrest . . . .”) (emphasis added); United States v. Cartier, 543 F.3d 442, 448 (8th Cir. 2008) (“In assessing whether Cartier was ‘in custody’ for Miranda purposes, we make a two-part inquiry: (1) was he formally placed under arrest or (2) was his freedom of movement restrained to the degree associated with a formal arrest.”) (emphasis added). Consequently, this was not a “temporary roadside detention” and Martin was in custody for purposes of Miranda.

This discussion is a bit superfluous, not only “(b)ecause the parties do not dispute that Martin was in custody,” court of appeals decision, ¶13, but simply because Martin was under arrest (albeit for a different offense, DC). Custody for Miranda purposes is determined by whether “there (was) a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest,” Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112, and although the opinion doesn’t describe the facts in any detail, given that Martin indisputably “had been placed under arrest,” it’s hard to see how the test wouldn’t be satisfied. In this sense, the emphasis on handcuffs may be a bit of a distraction. Still, the larger point is worth keeping in mind generally: even significant restraint may not transform a seizure into an arrest. The court hints at the problem in footnote 23, citing United States v. Leshuk, 65 F.3d 1105, 1109-10 (4th Cir. 1995) for the idea that “drawing weapons, handcuffing a suspect, placing a suspect in a patrol car for questioning, or using or threatening to use force does not necessarily elevate a lawful stop into a custodial arrest for Miranda purposes.” The court’s casting this as clear-cut fifth, rather than fourth, amendment analysis, id., obscures the nature of the problem: “the line between a lawful Terry stop and an unlawful arrest is not bright.” U.S. v. Vega, 72 F.3d 507, 515 (7th Cir. 1995). If the seizure is tantamount to arrest then not only is probable cause required, but so are Miranda warnings as precondition to interrogation; if not, then not. The problem in a nutshell: “The permissible scope of a Terry stop has expanded in recent years to include the use of handcuffs and temporary detentions in squad cars,” United States v. Stewart, 388 F.3d 1079, 1084 (7th Cir.2004).

Why harp on this? This very case shows the potential for close connection between 4th and 5th A analysis. Note that the gun, the very premise for the case, was seized incident to Martin’s arrest for disorderly conduct. (See State’s Brief in court of appeals, p. 6: “police were authorized to search the passenger compartment of the vehicle for weapons without a warrant incident to Martin’s arrest.”) Take away the fact of arrest and you take away the basis for prosecuting Martin. No wonder, then, the State was so willing to concede the existence of arrest. Not every case will present such an obvious dilemma, of course, but it is nonetheless endemic often enough, as this case illustrates: authorization under the fourth amendment for the particular level of intrusion will trigger fifth amendment rights. On the other hand, if the issue is “merely” one of temporary stop versus full-blown arrest, then as the discussion above indicates, courts seems increasingly willing to tolerate a large showing of force without converting the former into the latter.


The settled test is whether the officer has asked a question reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating answer, ¶36. Asking Martin whether he owned the seized gun satisfied the test, id. The court rejects the State’s posit of the “general on-the-scene” exception to Miranda – that exception applies only when the person isn’t in custody, hence is inapplicable here, ¶37. Martin’s ensuing statement – whether the police would let Henry go if Martin admitted ownership – can’t be separated out from the interaction, contrary to the court of appeals:

¶39  The court of appeals cited no authority for the proposition that an incriminating statement offered by a suspect who has not been Mirandized during the course of a custodial interrogation is admissible simply because that particular statement, viewed in complete isolation, appears “voluntary.”  Such authority does not exist for good reason.  Miranda set forth a prophylactic rule.  See Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. __, 132 S. Ct. 1181, 1188 (2012) (“Miranda adopted a set of prophylactic measures designed to ward off the inherently compelling pressures of custodial interrogation.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).  The prophylactic power of the rule loses almost all force if a suspect can simply volunteer incriminating information during the course of a custodial interrogation without adverse consequences to the state.  At that point, it is not a prophylactic rule at all, because it is entirely focused on the specific inculpatory statement, not on the fact that police officers are required to issue Miranda warnings whenever they ask a question “reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.”  Muniz, 496 U.S. at 600.  Consequently, it is of no moment to our Miranda analysis that Martin’s admission, viewed in a vacuum, appears to have been made voluntarily.

Differential analysis requires something to differentiate the statements, namely “a break between the two exchanges, evidenced by factors like a lapse in time, change in personnel, change in location, or change in the content of the questions and answers. … Here, none of those factors militate in favor of finding a sufficient break,” ¶40.

Harmless Error 

¶45  This court recently set forth the parameters for harmless error analysis in Harvey, 254 Wis. 2d 442, ¶46.  There, we held that in order for an error to be deemed harmless, the party who benefited from the error must show that “it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found the defendant guilty absent the error.”  Id., ¶49 (quoting Neder, 527 U.S. at 18) (emphasis added, internal quotation marks omitted).  As the party benefitted by the error, the State bears the burden of showing the error was harmless.  State v. LaCount, 2008 WI 59, ¶85, 310 Wis. 2d 85, 750 N.W.2d 780.  Framed a different way, an “error is harmless if the beneficiary of the error proves ‘beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained.'” State v. Mayo, 2007 WI 78, ¶47, 301 Wis. 2d 642, 734 N.W.2d 115 (quoting State v. Anderson, 2006 WI 77, ¶114, 291 Wis. 2d 673, 717 N.W.2d 74) (internal quotation marks omitted); State v. Stuart, 2005 WI 47, ¶40, 279 Wis. 2d 659, 695 N.W.2d 259.  Therefore, this court must be satisfied, beyond a reasonable doubt, not that the jury could have convicted the defendant (i.e., sufficient evidence existed to convict the defendant), State v. Weed, 2003 WI 85, ¶28, 263 Wis. 2d 434, 666 N.W.2d 485, but rather that the jury would have arrived at the same verdict had the error not occurred.  See Harvey, 254 Wis. 2d 442, ¶46 (quoting Neder, 527 U.S. at 18).

The court proceeds to find the error reversible; the analysis necessarily being fact-specific, it won’t be summarized here, except to say that the court perceived that Martin’s inadmissible statements played a prominent role in the trial.

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