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Incarcerated Persons Not In-Custody for Miranda Purposes

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held “that neither the Wisconsin Constitution nor the purposes underlying Miranda warnings support a judicially created rule treating all incarcerated individuals as ‘in custody.’”

The court’s January 29, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Brian L. Halverson. He was held at the Vernon County Jail on September 27, 2016 when Stanley Correctional Institution (SCI) guard Matthew Danielson called the jail and requested to speak to Halverson. Danielson was investigating a claim of theft and destruction of property at SCI.

Halverson returned the call ten minutes later and admitted to the crimes. He was charged with one count of criminal damage to property and one count of misdemeanor theft, both as a repeater. Halverson moved to suppress his statements on grounds he was not read his Miranda warnings.

The circuit court granted the motion, holding it was bound to apply the per se rule in State v. Armstrong, 223 Wis.2d 331, 588 N.W.2d 606 (1999) that incarcerated individuals are in custody for Miranda purposes.

The court of appeals reversed. It held Armstrong was effectively overturned by the holding in Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499 (2012). The court concluded the Constitution contains no such per se rule. It cited three reasons to support its conclusion: the coercive pressures in questioning are substantially diminished for an incarcerated person than someone arrested in the first instance, incarcerated individuals have far less pressure to speak with the hope of securing release, and incarcerated individuals know their questioners “probably lack authority to affect the duration of [their] sentence.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court said it was bound to follow the Howes ruling. It further found the Wisconsin Constitution’s self-incrimination clause is substantively identical to the Fifth Amendment in the U.S. constitution. In affirming the court of appeals, the court said “that interrogation by phone call is unlikely to rise to the level of Miranda custody.” A reasonable person would know they are free to terminate the interrogation by hanging up the call. See: State v. Halverson, 953 N.W.2d 847 (Wis. 2021). 

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Related legal case

State v. Halverson