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State v. Bartelt

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

February 20, 2018

State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Daniel J. H. Bartelt, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.

          Submitted on Briefs: oral argument: November 14, 2 017

         REVIEW OF A DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS Reported at 375 Wis.2d 148, 895 N.W.2d 86 PDC No: 2017 WI.App. 23

         Circuit Court Washington County L.C. No. 2013CF276 Todd K. Martens Judge

          For the defendant-appellant-petitioner, there were briefs and an oral argument by Leon W. Todd, assistant state public defender.

          For the plaintiff-respondent, there was a brief by Amy C. Miller, assistant solicitor general, Brad D. Schimel, attorney general, Misha Tseytlin, solicitor general, and Ryan J. Walsh, chief deputy solicitor general. There was an oral argument by Amy C. Miller.


         ¶1 This review concerns the point in time at which a person is "in custody" for purposes of Miranda.[1] Daniel J.H. Bartelt asks us to overturn a decision of the court of appeals, affirming the circuit court's[2] judgment entered in favor of the State regarding Bartelt's motion to suppress incriminating statements, and concluding that Bartelt was not in custody at the time the statements were made.

         ¶2 Bartelt presents two issues: first, whether Bartelt's confession to a serious crime transformed his custody status from noncustodial to "in custody;" and second, whether Bartelt's request for counsel was unequivocal such that police officers violated his Fifth Amendment rights when they questioned him the following day without counsel present.

         ¶3 On the first issue we conclude that, under the totality of the circumstances attendant to his interview, Bartelt's confession did not transform his custody status. Rather, Bartelt was not in custody until Detectives Joel Clausing and Aaron Walsh of the Washington County Sheriff's Department took his cell phone, approximately ten minutes after his confession, and instructed him to remain in the interview room. Because we determine that Bartelt was not in custody until this point, which was after his alleged request for counsel, we need not and do not reach the issue of whether his alleged request for counsel was unequivocal.

         ¶4 Accordingly, we affirm the court of appeals.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ¶5 This case arises from two crimes committed in July 2013. On July 12, 2013, M.R. was assaulted by a male suspect with a knife while walking her dog in Richfield Historical Park in the Village of Richfield. M.R. was tackled to the ground and suffered several knife wounds before disarming the suspect, who fled the scene in a blue Dodge Caravan. Three days later, on July 15, 2013, Jessie Blodgett, a friend and former girlfriend of Bartelt, was found dead in her home in the City of Hartford. According to preliminary autopsy findings, the cause of death was ligature strangulation.

         ¶6 As of July 16, 2013, Clausing and Detective Richard Thickens of the Hartford Police Department had identified Bartelt as a person of interest in the attack on M.R. Earlier that month, a deputy had noticed a blue Dodge Caravan at the same park and had run the license plate, which revealed that the vehicle was registered to Bartelt's parents. Police learned that the Bartelts had a son, and were then able to match Bartelt's photograph from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation with the composite sketch drawn at M.R.'s direction. Clausing contacted Bartelt around 5:00 p.m. on July 16, and told him that the police were investigating an incident, and that they needed to speak with him. Bartelt was "very compliant, " and agreed to meet with detectives at the Slinger Police Department.

         ¶7 The Slinger Police Department is located inside a municipal building that it shares with various other offices and departments. There is one main entrance to the building. Once inside, a separate entrance leads to the police department. Neither the main door to the building nor the door to the police department is secured during normal business hours, and there are no metal detectors or other security screening devices. Inside the police department, another door leads to the "internal portion" of the department. This door is locked from the outside, but one can freely exit. The interview room is located about twenty-five feet inside this secured area. The room is thirteen and one-half feet by ten and one-half feet, and contains a table, three chairs and a window. The room can be accessed by either of two doors, neither of which can be locked.

         ¶8 Bartelt was dropped off by two friends at the Slinger Police Department around 5:12 p.m. His friends waited outside. Clausing testified that Bartelt was escorted to the interview room but was not searched. Bartelt chose the seat on the far side of the table, while Clausing sat at the end, and Walsh sat opposite Bartelt. Clausing and Walsh were wearing civilian clothes; however, they both had their badges displayed on their belts, as well as their service weapons. Clausing testified that one of the doors to the room was left open. Unbeknownst to Bartelt, the interview was recorded by both audio and visual means.

         ¶9 Clausing began the interview by telling Bartelt that he was not in trouble, he was not under arrest, and he could leave at any time. Clausing did not read Bartelt his Miranda rights. Bartelt, who had just come from the Blodgett residence to pay his respects to the family, believed the police were meeting with him about Blodgett's murder. However, Clausing explained that law enforcement was investigating an attack that had occurred at Richfield Historic Park on the previous Friday. Bartelt was asked a number of preliminary questions and initially denied any involvement. Bartelt stated that he had been with his girlfriend on the day in question, although he could not "remember any specifics." Clausing then explained that cell phones "are kind of like GPS's, " and told Bartelt, "I don't want any lies."

         ¶10 Clausing then observed some scrapes and a cut on Bartelt's hand and arm. Bartelt stated he did not remember how he scraped his arm, but that he had stabbed his hand "with a screw at work." The following exchange then occurred:

DET. CLAUSING: ... So what do you think evidence is?
MR. BARTELT: Incriminating items, documents.
DET. CLAUSING: First - but I'm more of a nuts-and-bolts type of guy. Like, what would you consider to be evidence?
DET. CLAUSING: Fingerprints?
DET. CLAUSING: Okay. Fibers? Hairs?
DET. CLAUSING: Any DNA? You know, footwear impressions?
DET. CLAUSING: Witness statements, right? Video surveillance, stuff like that, right?
DET. CLAUSING: Is there any evidence that we just talked about which would show that you would be in this park at the time of this incident that had occurred? Is there any evidence out there that would show that?
MR. BARTELT: I don't think so . . . What is this about?

         ¶11 After reminding Bartelt that police were investigating an incident at Richfield Historical Park, Clausing said, "What if I were to tell you that there might be something that links you there." Clausing then proceeded to explain "Locard's exchange principle, " which holds that the perpetrator of a crime will bring something into the crime scene-such as fingerprints, sweat, DNA, or clothing fibers-and leave it behind. The detectives added that they had found evidence "from the person that was out there, " which needed to be analyzed by the state crime laboratory.

         ¶12 Clausing next told Bartelt that they had an eyewitness, stating, "I would hate to put down your picture in front of the eyewitness and have them say, that's the guy that was out there." Further, Clausing stated, "I can prove that you were out there. It's not just a tip. I can prove it. And all I'm getting at is that if you were out there, just talk to us about what happened or what you saw or what you observed or whatever." Walsh told Bartelt they knew that his vehicle had been spotted at the park on several occasions when Bartelt was supposed to be at work. Bartelt admitted that he had been laid off for several months, and that the injury was actually the result of a cooking accident.

         ¶13 At this time Clausing moved his chair closer to Bartelt. When Clausing's face was about two feet from Bartelt's, Clausing told him, "No more lies. It just makes things worse. It is spiraling out of control right now .... Nobody in their right mind would lie about cutting themselves if it happened at home cooking .... What happened? Just be honest." Bartelt admitted that he had been to the park before and that he had seen the sketch on television, but that "it wasn't me."

         ¶14 Walsh then urged Bartelt to help bring closure to M.R. "Daniel, the truth is going to help us bring some resolution to this for everybody involved .... We have one scared person out there right now . . . and the easiest way to put some resolution to this is [for] the [ ] person that did this to take responsibility." Walsh added that he could understand why someone would do this, "especially if the person that did it explains to us what they were thinking, where they were in their life." For example, Bartelt had lost his job and hid that from his parents, and he had dropped out of college after only one semester. Walsh stated that "when things are not going well for people, they do things that are very out of character." He added, "I think you are a good person . . . [g]ood people can explain things away and we can understand why they do things. So tell us about the park."

         ¶15 Following a lengthy narrative from Clausing about the two types of people in this situation-those who take responsibility and those who say "prove it"-Bartelt admitted to being at the park and going "after that girl" because he "wanted to scare someone." Bartelt told the officers that he had been reading when he saw M.R., and in the "spur of the moment, " he decided to "run at her and knock her down and scare her." Bartelt admitted there was no real explanation or motive for the attack; he was "just numb" and scared because "life scares me." Bartelt targeted M.R. because "[t]here was no one else there." Following this admission, Clausing asked Bartelt if he would be willing to provide a written statement of confession. Walsh explained that the written statement would be Bartelt's chance to apologize. When Bartelt asked what would happen after he gave his statement, Clausing responded, "I can't say what happens then. We'll probably have more questions for you, quite honestly." Clausing later testified that, once Bartelt had confessed, he "was going to be under arrest, and he probably wasn't free to get up and leave."

         ¶16 It was at this point that Bartelt asked, "Should I or can I speak to a lawyer or anything?" Clausing told him, "Sure, yes. That is your option." Bartelt responded, "I think I'd prefer that." At 5:45 p.m., roughly 33 minutes after Bartelt arrived at the station for questioning, Clausing and Walsh suspended the interview, took Bartelt's cell phone, and left the room. When the detectives returned seven or eight minutes later, Clausing told Bartelt he was under arrest, handcuffed him, and searched him. Bartelt was then transported to the Washington County Jail.

         ¶17 Clausing testified that, during the course of the interview, both he and Walsh spoke in a conversational tone, which did not change even after Bartelt's admission. Neither detective ever made reference to or unholstered their weapons. Bartelt never asked to use the restroom or take a break. At one point during the interview Clausing gave Bartelt permission to answer his cell phone, which Bartelt declined to do.

         ¶18 The following day, on July 17, 2013, Bartelt was brought to the interview room at the Washington County Sheriff's Department to be questioned by Thickens and Detective James Wolf regarding his relationship with Blodgett. Before commencing with questioning, Thickens read Bartelt his Miranda rights, which Bartelt knowingly and voluntarily waived.

         ¶19 Bartelt was questioned for approximately 90 minutes about his relationship with Blodgett and his whereabouts on the day of Blodgett's death. Bartelt denied being at the Blodgett residence on July 15, 2013, or having any knowledge of Blodgett's death. Bartelt stated that on the morning of July 15 he had left his house at 6:30 a.m. and drove "all over" before spending a few hours at Woodlawn Union Park. Bartelt then asked for an attorney, at which point the questioning stopped.

         ¶20 Thickens later drove to Woodlawn Union Park to investigate, and in doing so he collected garbage from the park's receptacles. In one container he found a Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal box containing paper toweling, numerous types of rope and tape, and antiseptic wipes with red stains. One of the ropes later revealed DNA that belonged to both Bartelt and Blodgett, and which matched the ligature marks on Blodgett's neck. Another rope matched the ligature marks on her wrists and ankles. Based on this evidence and the confession Bartelt made during his first interview, Bartelt was charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless endangerment, and attempted false imprisonment for the attack on M.R., as well as first-degree intentional homicide for the murder of Blodgett.

         ¶21 Bartelt moved to suppress his statements, and any evidence derived from them, on the grounds that the officers had violated his Miranda rights when they questioned him. The circuit court denied Bartelt's motion, concluding that at the time of his July 16, 2013, interview, Bartelt had voluntarily agreed to speak with police. The circuit court concluded that Bartelt was not in custody until after he had requested an attorney, roughly ten minutes after his confession. Therefore, no Miranda warnings were necessary with respect to the July 16 interview, and police were free to initiate questioning on July 17 because "an assertion of Miranda . . . which a person makes while they are not in custody, does not prospectively prohibit law enforcement from attempting to interview an individual later." Further, with respect to the July 17 interview, the circuit court found that Bartelt was properly given his Miranda warning, which he voluntarily waived.

         ¶22 Following the denial of Bartelt's suppression motion, the circuit court ordered that the Blodgett homicide charge be separated from the charges related to M.R. After a seven-day jury trial, Bartelt was found guilty of Blodgett's murder. Consequently, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release to extended supervision. Shortly thereafter, the parties reached a plea agreement regarding the attempted murder, reckless endangerment, and false imprisonment charges. In exchange for Bartelt's guilty plea to first-degree reckless endangerment, the State agreed to dismiss and read-in the remaining counts, and Bartelt was sentenced to five years' imprisonment and five years' extended supervision consecutive to his life sentence.

         ¶23 Bartelt appealed his murder conviction on the grounds that the circuit court improperly denied his suppression motion. Specifically, Bartelt argued that once he confessed to attacking M.R., a reasonable person in his circumstances would have believed he was not free to leave the station, thereby transforming the non-custodial interview into a custodial interrogation. Bartelt therefore argued that all statements made after his admissions about M.R. were inadmissible under the principles of Miranda and Edwards. As a consequence, Bartelt alleges that detectives violated his Fifth Amendment rights when they approached him to question him about Blodgett's murder without counsel being present. Under the exclusionary rule, [3] Bartelt alleged that all derivative evidence discovered as a result of his statements should have been suppressed.[4]

         ¶24 The court of appeals rejected Bartelt's arguments and affirmed the circuit court's judgment. Bartelt sought review, which we granted. For the reasons explained below, we affirm the court of appeals.


         A. ...

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