This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
Filed November 21, 2006
Clearwater County District Court
File No. J3-05-50050
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134; and
Kip O. Fontaine, Clearwater County Attorney, Scott G. Collins, Assistant County Attorney, 213 Main Avenue North, Department 301, Bagley, Minnesota 56621 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Jodie L. Carlson, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414 (for appellant D.R.M.S.)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
D.R.M.S. appeals from an adjudication of delinquency for aiding and abetting criminal damage to property. Appellant argues that (1) the statement he made to a uniformed police officer is inadmissible because he was subject to custodial interrogation and was not given a Miranda warning; (2) even if a Miranda warning was not required, his statement is inadmissible because it was involuntary; and (3) the admission into evidence of a police officer’s testimony regarding out-of-court statements by another juvenile implicating appellant in the crime violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause. Because appellant was subject to a custodial interrogation without the benefit of a Miranda warning, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
In May 2005, a maintenance worker discovered that gauges at the Clearwater County pool had been damaged. E.L.C., a juvenile, was questioned and admitted damaging the gauges sometime around December 2004. E.L.C. also implicated appellant.
The next day, a police officer went to Clearbrook School, where both E.L.C. and appellant were students, and questioned both juveniles. Appellant—who was then 13 years old—was called out of class and brought to the principal’s office by school staff. Appellant testified that he did not know why he was being called to the principal’s office, but that he felt he had no choice but to go. He waited in the principal’s office for a brief period while the police officer interviewed E.L.C. and observed E.L.C. leaving the interview room. The police officer then asked appellant to come into the room to speak with him. The room in which the interview was conducted is occasionally used as a detention room for students. The officer, who was in uniform and wearing his sidearm, closed the door to the room and informed appellant that he was not under arrest and did not have to speak with him. The police officer did not advise appellant of his Miranda rights or tell him that he was free to leave. The police officer then told appellant that E.L.C. had implicated him in the crime. Appellant initially denied any knowledge of the crime, but the officer said that he did not believe what appellant was saying. After further questioning, appellant admitted that he had damaged the gauges. During the interview, the police officer mentioned that the crime was a felony-level crime and made some reference to Northwest Juvenile Center. Toward the end of the interview, the police officer turned on a tape recorder to take a taped statement from appellant. At the conclusion of the interview, the police officer told appellant that he could leave, and appellant returned to class.
At the omnibus hearing, appellant testified that while he was being questioned, he felt that he had to tell the police officer something to avoid being “taken away” and that the statement he made to the police officer was not the truth. He also testified that he believed that he would have gotten in trouble if he had left the room during the interview.
In June 2005, a juvenile delinquency petition was filed against appellant, charging him with one count of aiding and abetting felony-level criminal damage to property. At the omnibus hearing, appellant challenged the admissibility of his statement to the police officer. The district court denied appellant’s motion to suppress the statement. In November 2005, following a court trial, the district court found that appellant aided and abetted criminal damage to property and adjudicated him delinquent. This appeal follows.
Appellant argues that the statement he made to the police officer should have been suppressed at trial because he was subject to a custodial interrogation and was not advised of his Miranda rights. “[W]hether a defendant was ‘in custody’ at the time of interrogation is a mixed question of law and fact, requiring the appellate court to apply the controlling legal standard to historical facts as determined by the [district] court.” State v. Wienasz, 584 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. 1998). This court reviews the district court’s findings of fact for clear error but reviews de novo the district court’s determination on custody and the need for a Miranda warning. Id. In Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court held that “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.” Miranda v. Arizona, 344 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 1612 (1966). “Juveniles as well as adults are entitled to be apprised of their constitutional rights according to the dictates of Miranda.” State v. Loyd, 297 Minn. 442, 445, 212 N.W.2d 671, 674 (1973).
To determine whether a defendant is in custody, this court applies an objective test in which we examine “whether the circumstances of the interrogation would make a reasonable person believe that he was under formal arrest or physical restraint akin to formal arrest.” In re the Welfare of D.S.M., 710 N.W.2d 795, 797–98 (Minn. App. 2006) (citing State v. Rosse, 478 N.W.2d 482, 484 (Minn. 1991)). The focus of this test is the perspective of the person who was questioned, not the subjective intent of the police officer. In re the Welfare of G.S.P., 610 N.W.2d 651, 657 (Minn. App. 2000). Factors this court can consider when determining whether a juvenile was subject to custodial interrogation that would require a Miranda warning include the juvenile’s age, intelligence, education, experience with the law, whether any warning was given, and the presence or absence of the juvenile’s parents. In re the Welfare of M.A.K., 667 N.W.2d 467, 471 (Minn. App. 2003).
This court has recently considered two cases with fact patterns similar to this one. In In re the Welfare of G.S.P., 610 N.W.2d 651, 659 (Minn. App. 2000), this court concluded that a 12-year-old student who had never been in trouble and had never been called to the principal’s office was subject to custodial interrogation when he was questioned by a school official and a uniformed police officer. The interview was taped and the G.S.P. court noted that “[t]he fact that [the police officer] told G.S.P. at the outset that the interview would be recorded is strongly suggestive of a custodial interrogation.” Id. at 658. Noting the difference between questioning a student about conduct at school that warrants disciplinary action and questioning a student about potentially criminal acts, the court stated “where a peace officer interrogates a student in custody in a manner likely to elicit criminally incriminating responses, the student must be afforded Fifth Amendment protection.” Id. at 659.
Similarly, in In re the Welfare of M.A.K., 667 N.W.2d 467 (Minn. App. 2003), a 14-year-old boy with no prior experience with the police was brought to his school’s police-liaison office by school officials to be questioned. Id. at 472. During questioning, the boy was told that he was not under arrest, but he was not told that he could refuse to answer questions and leave if he wanted to. Id. The police did not tell the boy that he could contact his parents, and he was not given a pass to return to class until the police were satisfied with his statements. Id. The M.A.K. court stated that “[u]nder the circumstances, we cannot say that a reasonable person in [M.A.K.’s] position would have understood that he was free to leave and did not have to answer any questions” and concluded that the boy should have been advised of his Miranda rights. Id.
Here, appellant was questioned by a uniformed police officer wearing a sidearm behind the closed door in a small room sometimes used as a detention room. The police officer informed appellant that he was not under arrest and did not have to answer questions, but the officer did not tell appellant that he was free to leave. The police officer did not ask appellant if he wanted to contact his parents, and appellant was not given a note to return to class until after he had given a taped statement admitting to participating in the crime. Additionally, the police officer was questioning appellant about a felony-level crime and his questions were designed to elicit criminally incriminating responses.
Based on the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that a reasonable person in similar circumstances would believe that he was under arrest or subject to physical restraint akin to formal arrest. Therefore, because appellant was subject to custodial interrogation without being afforded a Miranda warning, the district court’s denial of appellant’s motion to suppress was erroneous.
Even though we conclude that the district court’s failure to suppress the statement was erroneous, reversal is not warranted if the error is harmless. State v. Martin, 695 N.W.2d 578, 583 (Minn. 2005); Minn. R. Crim. P. 31.01 (“Any error, defect, irregularity or variance which does not affect substantial rights shall be disregarded.”). In a harmless-error review, the reviewing court determines whether there is a reasonable possibility that the wrongfully admitted evidence significantly affected the verdict. State v. Post, 512 N.W.2d 99, 102 n.2 (Minn. 1994); see In re Welfare of T.J.C., 670 N.W.2d 629, 631–32 (Minn. App. 2003) (applying harmless-error analysis to verdict of bench trial). If there is a reasonable possibility that the verdict might have been more favorable to the defendant without the evidence, then the error is prejudicial. Id.
The bulk of the evidence presented at trial consisted of appellant’s statement and the testimony of the police officer who interviewed him. Besides the maintenance man who testified about the damage to the pool gauges, only one other person testified. An 11-year-old boy testified that E.L.C. had admitted that he alone was responsible for damaging the pool gauges. But the 11-year-old also testified that on another occasion, E.L.C. told him that appellant was also involved. This is not persuasive testimony. On this record, we conclude that if appellant’s statement to the police had been suppressed, there is a reasonable possibility that the verdict would have been favorable to appellant. Therefore, the district court’s error was not harmless, and we reverse and remand for further proceedings. Because of our holding on this issue, we do not address whether appellant’s statement was voluntary or whether his Confrontation Clause rights were violated.
Reversed and remanded.