April 12, 2013 – The father of a child killed by morphine overdose told police detectives he wanted a lawyer when questioned about the circumstances. Then he changed his mind, supplying information that prosecutors used to obtain a conviction.
In State v. Lonkoski, 2013 WI 30 (April 9, 2013), a unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed Matthew Lonkoski’s criminal convictions by ruling that he was not “in custody” when he asked for a lawyer. Thus, his statements could not be suppressed.
“In the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in Lonkoski’s position at the time he stated he wanted an attorney would believe that he or she was “’free to terminate the interview and leave the scene,’” Justice Patrick Crooks wrote.
Lonkoski’s 10-month-old daughter ingested morphine and died shortly after Lonkoski and the child’s mother, Amanda Bodoh, found her unresponsive at their home near Rhinelander in 2009. An autopsy revealed the deadly dose in the child’s blood.
Police asked Bodoh to come in for questioning. Lonkoski drove her to police station, and waited in the lobby while detectives interviewed Bodoh.
Police then brought Lonkoski to an interview room and closed the door. They told him he was not under arrest, but video-recorded the interview. Thus, the court could see and hear the line of questioning that led Lonkoski to eventually say, “I want a lawyer.”
Detectives said they would stop talking to him, but Lonkoski then voiced a willingness he continue talking to them “without a lawyer” because he didn’t want to go to jail. Police then read Lonkoski his Miranda rights before the questioning continued.
Lonkoski went on to make incriminating statements and later pleaded guilty to reckless child abuse causing great bodily harm and child neglect resulting in death. He received a 12-year prison sentence with five years of extended supervision.
Lonkoski appealed, arguing that the circuit court committed reversible error when it refused to suppress his incriminating statements. He said he asked for a lawyer, triggering a constitutional protection on any subsequent statements.
Recently, the Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed.
“We hold that the circuit court properly denied the motion to suppress because Lonkoski was not in custody when he asked for an attorney, and therefore, Miranda did not bar further interrogation by the officers,” Justice Crooks explained in the opinion.
The court rejected Lonkoski’s argument that he was protected by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Miranda protects statements made while in “custodial interrogation” pursuant to the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
Police violate constitutional protections if questioning in-custody suspects without a Miranda warning to remind them of certain rights, including a right to counsel.
The court ruled that Lonkoski was not protected by Miranda because the circumstances surrounding the interrogation would not lead a reasonable person to believe he could not leave. For one, he entered the police station on his own volition.
In addition, the supreme court noted that the interview room door was not locked, detectives asked “open-ended” questions that were not accusatory, and the interview was only 30 minutes long before Lonkoski asked for an attorney.
The supreme court refused to expand the holding in State v. Hambly, in which the supreme court ruled that Miranda applies if a suspect is in-custody and “interrogation is imminent.” In Hambly, the suspect invoked a right to counsel after he was formally arrested but before interrogation. He asked for a lawyer while in the squad car.
Lonkoski sought a ruling that Miranda applies if “custody is imminent,” noting that he asked for a lawyer and a short time later, police arrested him. “In Hambly, the suspect was enduring a much more coercive environment than Lonkoski,” wrote Justice Crooks.