This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
State of Minnesota,
Leigh Anton Mandt,
Crow Wing County District Court
File No. K0982267
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Donald F. Ryan, Crow Wing County Attorney, 322 Laurel Street, Brainerd, MN 56401 (for appellant)
Jeffrey Donald Bores and Dennis B. Johnson, Chestnut & Cambronne, PA, 3700 Piper Jaffray Tower, 222 South Ninth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and
Craig G. Cascarano, Cascarano Law Office, 2890 Anderson Consulting Towers, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge and Foley, Judge.*
The state challenges the district court’s dismissal of the indictments against respondent for second-degree manslaughter. The district court determined that respondent’s two statements to police, presented to the grand jury to establish probable cause, were taken in violation of his Fifth-Amendment rights. The state argues that respondent’s two statements did not require Miranda warnings because the statements were taken in noncustodial settings. We agree that the district court erred in finding that the first statement was custodial and required a Miranda warning, but because the district court did not err in finding that the second statement required a Miranda warning and in surpressing that statement which contained the basis for probable cause determination, we affirm.
On June 3, 1997, respondent Leigh Mandt (born 11-09-78) hosted a beer party to celebrate his upcoming high school graduation. Respondent bought kegs of beer. The party continued into the early morning hours of June 4, and respondent, his brother Lucas Mandt, and their mutual friend Brandon Dahl, were the last to leave the party at 3:30 a.m. The three went to some railroad tracks to continue drinking. At approximately 5:19 a.m. the three boys left the railroad tracks. At 5:40 a.m. a train went through Brainerd. The train crew saw no one on or near the tracks. The boys bought a soda at approximately 6:00 a.m. and then returned to the railroad tracks and continued to drink. Respondent decided to go home sometime after this and remembered waking up at 10:30 a.m. that morning in his car in a mall parking lot.
At 8:33 that morning, a train came through Brainerd. The crew noticed two people, later identified as Lucas Mandt and Brandon Dahl, lying side-by-side on the railroad tracks. The crew sounded the horn and braked, but the boys were hit and killed instantly. The autopsy revealed that Brandon Dahl had a blood alcohol level of .26 and Lucas Mandt had a blood alcohol level of .18. Forensic evidence suggests that neither boy had been beaten, dragged, or placed on the tracks.
On June 4, 1997, the police brought respondent from his high school to the Crow Wing County Law Enforcement Center. Officers Larson and Downie questioned respondent during an interview conducted in Downie’s office; the door was shut but unlocked. No one restrained respondent, he never attempted to leave, and he did not ask for an attorney. The state admits that (1) respondent did not receive a Miranda warning; (2) no one told him that he was not under arrest, and, (3) no one told him that he could leave at any time. After the half-hour interview, the police drove respondent back to school and respondent consented to a search of his car.
The police decided to take a second statement that evening and they knew he was planning to attend a graduation party at the school. The police called the school liaison officer, a Brainerd police officer, to make arrangements to pick respondent up before he went in to the party. The liaison officer arranged for respondent to be transported for questioning, and then returned to the party after questioning. Officers Larson and Tollefson brought respondent to a police annex located across the street from the law enforcement center and interviewed him there. The officers recorded the interview. Officer Larson testified that the second interview was more adversarial than the first interview. The officer repeatedly told respondent that he knew respondent was not telling the truth. When the officers took a break to change the audio tape, they allowed respondent to step outside the office for some fresh air, but one of the officers accompanied him. After the two-hour interview, the police took respondent back to the school party.
On October 7, 1998, a grand jury indicted respondent on two counts of second-degree manslaughter in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.205 (1996). In June 1999, respondent filed a motion to dismiss the indictment and the district court held an omnibus hearing. The district court determined that the statements made by respondent were the result of custodial interrogations requiring Miranda warnings and they were inadmissible to the grand jury. In the absence of respondent’s statements, the court concluded that there was insufficient admissible evidence to support the indictments.
In a pretrial appeal of an order suppressing evidence, a reviewing court will not reverse the district court’s determination unless
the state demonstrates clearly and unequivocally, first, that the trial court erred in its judgment and, second, that, unless reversed, the error will have a critical impact on the outcome of the trial.
State v. Kim, 398 N.W.2d 544, 547 (Minn. 1987) (citation omitted). There is no dispute that the district court’s decision has a critical impact on the outcome of the trial. The only issues before this court are whether (1) respondent’s statements were taken in custodial settings in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, and (2) the indictments were properly dismissed for lack of probable cause. An appellate court reviews a district court's findings of fact for clear error, but makes an independent review of the district court's determination regarding custody and the need for a Miranda warning. State v. Shoen, 578 N.W.2d 708, 716 (Minn. 1998).
Appellant challenges the district court’s determination that respondent’s statements must be suppressed because they were made while he was subject to custodial interrogation. Appellant contends that respondent was not in custody, and therefore no Miranda warning was necessary. A Miranda warning protects an individual’s right against self incrimination and to be informed of that right, but is required only during custodial interrogations. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 1612 (1966). The test for determining whether an encounter constitutes a custodial interrogation “is whether a reasonable person under the circumstances would believe that he or she was in police custody of the degree associated with formal arrest.” State v. Champion, 533 N.W.2d 40, 43 (Minn. 1995); see also State v. Rosse, 478 N.W.2d 482, 484 (Minn. 1991) (describing the increasingly strict standard for determining custody). The custody test requires an inquiry into how a reasonable person in the suspect’s position would have understood the situation. Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 442, 104 S. Ct. 3138, 3151 (1984). In determining whether the restraints on an individual’s freedom were comparable to those associated with a formal arrest the court must look to all of the surrounding circumstances. State v. Hince, 540 N.W.2d 820, 823 (Minn. 1995).
The first interview was a general inquiry into the events the night before the accident. Police picked respondent up from school, took him to the law enforcement center, asked informational questions, offered him something to drink, and assured him that the officers were “not looking to get anyone into trouble for drinking.” After that half-hour interview, respondent was driven back to school. We conclude that a reasonable person would not have believed that under those circumstances he or she was in police custody to the degree associated with a formal arrest and, therefore, a Miranda warning was not required. The district court erred in suppressing the first statement, which was properly before the grand jury.
The circumstances of the second statement differ. Like the first interview, respondent consented to the interview and he never asked to leave. But, additional facts compel us to conclude that the second statement was taken in a custodial setting.
One of the most effective ways to demonstrate that an individual has not been “taken into custody or otherwise deprived of … freedom of action,” Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 86 S. Ct. at 1612, is to inform the suspect that he or she is not under arrest and that they may decline to answer questions. Minnesota courts have frequently held that, among other factors, an individual is not in custody if the individual is told that he or she is free to leave. See e.g. State v. Marhoun, 323 N.W.2d 729, 731 (Minn. 1982); State v. Martinson, 422 N.W.2d 282, 287 (Minn. App. 1988); State v. Norberg, 423 N.W.2d 733, 736 (Minn. App. 1988). The state does not dispute that Officer Larson never told respondent he could leave. The late night interview was held in the police annex, and respondent did not have his own transportation.
In addition, the police dominated respondent’s second interview. An interrogation conducted in an atmosphere dominated by police is more likely to be viewed as custodial than one not so conducted. See Miranda, 384 U.S. at 455, 86 S. Ct. at 1612-13 (discussing “incommunicado interrogation of individuals in a police-dominated atmosphere” and the “evil it [interrogation atmosphere] can bring”); see also Rosse, 478 N.W. 2d at 486 (holding the defendant was in custody when she was stopped at gun point by several police officers and interrogated in a squad car with a number of others standing nearby). Whether an investigation is police dominated is determined by such factors as the context of the questioning, the place of the questioning, and the length of the questioning. See Berkemer, 468 U.S. at 437-39, 104 S. Ct. at 3149 (noting that a traffic stop, not usually requiring a Miranda warning, is different from the type stationhouse interrogation requiring a Miranda warning, because the latter is often prolonged, the suspect is detained until he or she provides the answers that the interrogators seek, and the suspect may feel at the mercy of the police due to the non-public nature of the interrogation). Police officers questioned respondent for two hours, beginning at 10:00 p.m. with no one else present. The officers began the interview by stating that they believed that respondent was “holding back some things” and then repeatedly told respondent that they did not believe that he was telling the truth. Officer Larson told respondent:
Why don’t you give it up, Leigh? Get it over with…[m]aybe the two of them passed out, maybe you put ‘um on the tracks for a joke … [t]hat’s what happened, isn’t it?
Further, respondent was not allowed to leave the room without an officer accompanying him.
We note that Officer Larson, in respondent’s presence, made arrangements to return respondent to the party later that night. But his accommodation, viewed with the other factors in this case, does not negate our conclusion that a reasonable person would believe that his or her freedom was restricted to the degree of formal arrest. All of the circumstances, including the officers’ behavior during the interview, the timing and the place of the second interview and the failure of officers to tell respondent he was free to leave, show that a reasonable person would believe that he was in custody and restrained to a degree associated with a formal arrest. We conclude that a Miranda warning was required.
The state concedes that the grand jury based its probable cause determination primarily on the information contained in the second statement. The first statement was merely a broad reconstruction of the events that transpired the night before the deaths. Nothing in the first statement connects respondent to the train accident. Nor are there other witnesses who could explain what the boys did at the railroad tracks. Because the first statement alone is insufficient to support the indictments, we conclude that the district court did not err in dismissing the indictments.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.