The State Supreme Court has blessed intentional police misconduct so bad a circuit judge said it made him sick and the Court of Appeals said it deserved a strong reprimand.
The Court said it simply did not matter if police acted in bad faith during their improper questioning murder suspect.
The police misconduct included detaining the suspect for hours without giving the Miranda warning, ignoring several statements that she did not want to discuss the matter any more, and failing to get medical care when she fell ill.
Outagamie Circuit Judge Mark J. McGinnis said he "became sick to my stomach literally . . . . [T]his is textbook interrogation of what not to do if you want to be doing good police work and get stuff admitted in during a hearing."
McGinnis suppressed the woman's statements and physical evidence obtained after police got a search warrant based partly those statements.
An District 3 Court of Appeals panel called the police conduct "reprehensible," but said the physical evidence should be allowed in. The Supreme Court agreed, refusing to throw out the physical evidence as “fruit of the poisonous tree,” which is evidence that is tainted because it was obtained through a tainted process.
"This is a textbook interrogation of what not to do if you want to be doing good police work...." Outagamie Circuit Judge Mark J. McGinnis.
The 5-2 opinion penned by Justice David T. Prosser acknowledges the degree of misconduct. “It gives us pause to consider the possibility that officers could intentionally violate constitutional rights as a’"shortcut’ to obtaining evidence….” he wrote. “We are particularly mindful of this possibility as we decide a case in which the circuit court and court of appeals, respectively, rebuked officers for "flagrant" and "reprehensible" violations of...rights——rebukes, we believe, that were warranted and appropriate.”
Still, the Court said, pretending the tainted information in the search warrant did not actually exist still left enough information in the application for the warrant to be issued -- thus making discovery of the physical evidence inevitable. Prosser was joined in his opinion by Justice Rebecca G. Bradley, Michael J. Gableman, Patience D. Roggensack, and Annette K. Ziegler.
Justices Shirley S. Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley dissented. “A court is clearly saddened and disappointed to observe and write about intentional police misconduct violating a constitutional right” Abrahamson wrote for the two. “A court's expression of commitment to the Constitution rings hollow, however, if the court allows Miranda's shield against compelled self-incrimination to be cast aside without providing a remedy.”
The case stemmed from the 2012 stabbing death of Derrick Whitlow at a hotel in the Town of Grand Chute, near Appleton. Police suspected Whitlow’s wife, Mastella Jackson. Officers went to Jackson’s home and asked her to accompany them to the police station. They also took with them her 11-year-old son. They interviewed him alone for 60 to 90 minutes, gave him a dinner break, then interviewed him again, starting between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. During the second interview, police informed the young boy of his father’s death and continued to ask him questions.
“Over and over, the officers asked the boy to tell them the truth and to "do the right thing" to help his father,” Prosser wrote.
Eventually, the boy told them Jackson left the house for 10 to 20 minutes and took a shower immediately after returning home.
Meanwhile, Jackson was left in a room for almost two hours before police spoke to her. They told her specifically she was not under arrest. During questioning, she asked to leave and whether they could continue at another time. When she fell ill, she asked again to go home.
About six hours later into their interrogation, the police got around to reading her the Miranda warning. She already had given increasingly incriminating statements, Prosser wrote.
Police obtained their search warrant based on an affidavit including information from officers responding to the hotel, from the boy’s long questioning by officers and from Jackson's interrogation, Prosser wrote.
About 2:15 a.m., police brought Jackson to her house and Jackson showed them a garbage can in the garage containing the knife and the clothing she wore at the hotel.
“A court's expression of commitment to the Constitution rings hollow, however, if the court allows Miranda's shield against compelled self-incrimination to be cast aside without providing a remedy.” -- Supreme Court Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson
In his suppression ruling, McGinnis, the circuit court judge, said “I've never seen a case, been part of a case, or heard of a case that's worse than this in terms of what the police officers did in that interrogation room.... [T]his is just a clear violation of somebody's rights over a long period of time involving many different officers with lots of opportunities to have one of them step up and say, hey, this is not the way we need to do this."
He said the violations were "done intentionally, they were done flagrantly, they were done recklessly; and they were done without any concerns involving Ms. Jackson's rights, her constitutional rights, her statutory rights."
But Prosser said excluding the physical evidence would be inappropriate because police would find the items even with trampling civil rights.
"Insisting on suppression of evidence obtained by intentional misconduct would redirect the exclusionary rule to a punitive purpose——punishing the State and the public for misconduct by some officers despite independent proof of inevitable discovery of the relevant evidence," he wrote.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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