This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




State of Minnesota,



Kathleen Ann Wiernasz,


Filed January 20, 1998


Toussaint, Chief Judge

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 96070193

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 102 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155(for appellant)

Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, J. Michael Richardson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487(for appellant)

William E. McGee, Fourth District Chief Public Defender, Peter Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2700 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Holtan, Judge[*].


TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

Respondent Kathleen Ann Wiernasz, was charged with second degree murder in connection with the death of her newborn child. The state challenges the district court's exclusion of inculpatory statements made during a taped interrogation with Wiernasz, who was not given Miranda warnings, arguing that the district court improperly found that the interrogation had become custodial. Because the district court's detailed factual findings were not clearly erroneous, and because the district court applied the proper legal standard, we affirm.


The district court found that Kathleen Ann Wiernasz's August 15, 1996, interview was custodial and therefore, because of the absence of Miranda warnings, statements from that interview were inadmissible. This court will not reverse the district court's determination of custodial status unless the determination was clearly erroneous. State v. Kelly, 435 N.W.2d 807, 813 (Minn. 1989).

It is well established constitutional law 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, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 1612 (1966). Minnesota has clarified the test for custody, establishing that it 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). The totality of the circumstances must be considered in determining whether there was a formal arrest or restraints comparable to a formal arrest. State v. Rosse, 478 N.W.2d 482, 484 (Minn. 1991).

A review of the circumstances surrounding the police interrogation of Wiernasz in useful. On July 18, 1996, appellant Kathleen Ann Wiernasz gave birth to an infant child in her home. Wiernasz bled for several hours before her sister found her unconscious. Paramedics arrived and discovered that the baby was dead. Wiernasz met several times with law enforcement officers, including an extended July 31, 1996, interview with Minneapolis Police Detective John Van Slyke and Hennepin County Sheriff's Department Detective David P. Zimmer.

After making arrangements with Wiernasz, Detectives Zimmer and Van Slyke met with Wiernasz on August 15, 1996, for a polygraph test and a second interview. Wiernasz was tested and based on the results, the detectives decided to submit the case for prosecution. After completing the test, Wiernasz was taken to the same room in which she was interviewed on July 31. She waited there for approximately 15 minutes before Detectives Zimmer and Van Slyke entered. They told her that she was not under arrest, that she did not have to answer any questions, and that regardless of what they talked about, she would be taken home after the interview; she was not given a Miranda warning. Detective Zimmer told Wiernasz that based on the polygraph test, there was a 100 percent likelihood that she had lied on the polygraph question whether she had done anything to cause the baby to stop breathing; he said they needed to find out what happened that day. Eight minutes into the interview, Detective Zimmer told Wiernasz that there was a 99 percent likelihood that she had lied on the polygraph question whether she had intentionally done anything to case the baby to stop breathing. During the course of the August 15 interview, Wiernasz gave what amounted to a confession to the killing of her child. Detective Zimmer told her not to panic, that she was not going to be arrested and would be taken home, but that the information would be used by the medical examiner, and the county attorney would decide how Wiernasz might be charged. They took Wiernasz to be fingerprinted and photographed. Wiernasz was taken to a stenographer's cubicle and told that she was not under arrest and would be taken home after the statement; she was not given a Miranda warning. Wiernasz completed a statement, in which she confessed to making an intentional decision to allow her baby to drown in the toilet.

The district court made very detailed findings of fact regarding the August 15 interrogation. The district court allowed that the interrogation was noncustodial at the outset. Wiernasz came to the police station voluntarily, she was not searched, she was not placed under arrest, she was not handcuffed, and she was told that she was free to leave, that she was not required to answer any questions, and that she would be taken home after the interview regardless of what she said.

The district court concluded, however, that when Detective Zimmer began the actual interview with the statement that the polygraph test revealed a 100 percent likelihood that Wiernasz had lied in response to the question whether she had done anything to cause the baby to stop breathing, the interview became custodial. The district court reasoned that the polygraph statement, accompanied by the detectives' statements during the July 31 interview that implied that they believed that Wiernasz had caused the death of her baby, would lead a reasonable person to believe that she or he was in police custody of the degree associated with formal arrest. Further, circumstances contributed to the district court reasoning; Wiernasz, after completing the polygraph examination, had been kept waiting alone in "a small windowless interview room for 15 minutes." Despite Detective Zimmer's assurance that Wiernasz would be taken home, the district court postulated that a reasonable person would conclude that they were in custody of the degree associated with formal arrest.

Minnesota has established that a noncustodial interrogation may become custodial. The supreme court clarified:

If a station house interrogation is noncustodial at the outset and police do not change any of the circumstances of the interrogation during the course of the interrogation, they should be free to continue to ask questions after the suspect makes a significant incriminating statement without first stopping and giving the suspect a Miranda warning, provided that a reasonable person under the circumstances would not believe that he or she was in police custody of the degree associated with formal arrest.

Champion 533 N.W.2d at 43. In Champion, the supreme court held that what had been a noncustodial interrogation became custodial when the defendant confessed to choking the victim, because a reasonable person in the defendant's situation would then believe they were in police custody of the degree associated with formal arrest. Here, applying the law of Champion to the facts of the present case, we must conclude that the district court did not err in determining that the interrogation was custodial. Therefore, the suppression of statements from the August 15 interrogation was proper.


[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.