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People v. Wipfler





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County, the Hon. Robert Higgins, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Steven Wipfler, was indicted and tried separately for two burglaries. Each was tried to the court, and each resulted in a conviction. He was sentenced to serve terms of four years' probation, the first 45 weekends to be spent in the Will County jail. Defendant appealed both convictions, contending that his confession, which was the cornerstone of the State's case at both trials, was the fruit of an illegal arrest or the result of coercion, or that it was obtained without a valid waiver by him of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona (1966), 384 U.S. 436, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 86 S.Ct. 1602. The cases were consolidated for appeal. The appellate court, one justice dissenting, affirmed the convictions. (37 Ill. App.3d 400.) The appellate court held that the defendant, at the inception of his station-house interrogation, was not under arrest, and so his subsequent confession did not result from an arrest made without probable cause. The court found, further, that the record of the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress supports the finding of the trial court that defendant made an uncoerced confession after being timely informed of his Miranda rights and knowingly and voluntarily waiving them. We granted defendant leave to appeal.

On the evening of February 4, 1974, an office trailer on a construction site in Bolingbrook, Illinois, was entered and set on fire. During the weekend of February 16, 1974, the Bolingbrook home of Jerald Kraushaar was burglarized and several items taken. During the investigation of the burglary of the residence the police officers contacted the occupants of adjoining residences making inquiries. At one house the officers talked to an 18-year-old boy whom they knew had a motorcycle. They told him they had seen motorcycle tracks near the house that had been burglarized. The youth stated that his motorcycle was inoperative but that he had seen Steven Wipfler and some other boys riding their motorcycles in that vicinity. The youth stated that if they wanted some information about the burglary they should contact Steven. At 8:30 a.m. on February 20, Detective Mahoney of the Bolingbrook police called the Wipfler home and was told by Steven's mother that Steven was at school. Mahoney told her that he would like to talk to Steven about some burglaries under investigation. She said she would tell Steven to go to the police station after school.

When defendant went to the station after school, he first spoke briefly with Police Chief Johnson, who had allegedly been a sort of father image to defendant since the death of defendant's father. They did not discuss the burglary, but during the course of their conversation Chief Johnson said something to the effect that "if someone did something wrong he should be a man and admit it." Defendant was then asked to come into the sergeant's office, which was a room with two desks and about five chairs. Detective Kuntz was seated at one desk. Detective Mahoney sat at the other desk, and the defendant sat in a chair across the desk from Mahoney. The door was closed. According to the detectives no interrogation took place until defendant was read his Miranda rights. Defendant denies that he was so informed prior to questioning.

The interrogation focused at first on the Kraushaar burglary. Defendant was asked what he knew about the incident and initially denied having any knowledge of it. The detectives asked if he would take a polygraph, but he declined, admitting that he did have some knowledge of the burglary but was not directly involved. Defendant was then asked about the break-in at the trailer, and again his initial response was to deny any knowledge of it. After more questioning he once again admitted to having some knowledge of it but denied involvement. He said that the trailer was entered by a group of youths he had met that same evening, and that during the break-in he waited for them in their car. When he was unable to name any of these acquaintances or even to identify the kind of car he was in, Detective Mahoney expressed disbelief. Defendant then said he would tell the truth about everything. Both sides agree that at this point Miranda warnings were given. Defendant was allowed to examine a waiver form, which he then signed. Questioning continued, and defendant admitted participation in both burglaries. This confession came after a total of 45 minutes to an hour of interrogation. Defendant then drove home, followed by Mahoney and Kuntz, where he surrendered several items taken from the Kraushaar home. Defendant was permitted to remain at home overnight but returned to the police station the next day.

Prior to trial the defendant moved to suppress his confession. Following a hearing the motion was denied and, as previously indicated, defendant was convicted of both burglaries.

Several issues are raised by this appeal. First, did the arrest of defendant occur when he entered the interrogation room, prior to the existence of probable cause, as defendant contends? Next, did defendant knowingly and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights? Finally, was defendant's confession the result of coercion by members of the Bolingbrook Police Department?

Both sides agree that there was no probable cause to arrest defendant until he admitted more than mere knowledge of the burglaries and agreed to tell the truth about "everything." Defendant argues that, therefore, he was illegally arrested at the time he was asked to enter the interrogation room with Mahoney and Kuntz. The position of the State is that no illegal arrest occurred because defendant was in fact not arrested until after he agreed to tell the truth and not at any earlier point in his interrogation. We agree with the position taken by the State.

In People v. Clark (1956), 9 Ill.2d 400, we indicated that the elements of a valid arrest were present when the police informed defendant of a violation, he submitted to their control, and "[t]he evidence clearly shows * * * that the officers intended to effect the arrest and that the defendant so understood them." (Emphasis added.) (9 Ill.2d 400, 404.) Both the Federal courts> and the appellate courts> of this State have held that the intent of the officer and the understanding of the arrestee are two essential elements in the definition of arrest. (Moran v. United States (10th Cir. 1968), 404 F.2d 663; Hicks v. United States (D.C. Cir. 1967), 382 F.2d 158; Fisher v. United States (8th Cir. 1963), 324 F.2d 775; People v. Ussery (1974), 24 Ill. App.3d 864; People v. Smith (1971), 5 Ill. App.3d 341; People v. Bridges (1970), 123 Ill. App.2d 58; People v. Jackson (1968), 98 Ill. App.2d 238; People v. Mirbelle (1934), 276 Ill. App. 533. For a discussion of the relevance of the state of mind of the parties in determining whether an arrest has occurred, see Cook, Subjective Attitudes of Arrestee and Arrestor as Affecting Occurrence of Arrest, 19 U. Kan. L. Rev. 173 (1971).) It is also clear, however, that the component of an arrest which courts> have labeled the arrestee's understanding is not identical to the arrestee's subjective beliefs at the time of arrest. The accepted test of understanding is not what the arrestee thought, but "what a reasonable man, innocent of any crime, would have thought had he been in the defendant's shoes." (Hicks v. United States (D.C. Cir. 1967), 382 F.2d 158, 161; see also People v. Howlett (1971), 1 Ill. App.3d 906.) Naturally, the beliefs of the individual arrestee, to the extent that they can actually be ascertained, are legitimate considerations. (Hicks v. United States (D.C. Cir. 1967), 382 F.2d 158, 161.) When, however, the apprehension engendered in an arrestee, even if such apprehension can be said to be reasonably held by the particular arrestee, does not coincide with what the reasonable, innocent man would have thought, then assessments of whether an arrest occurred must be guided by the reasonable man standard and not by the subjective belief of the arrestee. See Coates v. United States (D.C. Cir. 1969), 413 F.2d 371.

In the case at bar, the trial judge made the finding that defendant was not under arrest when his interrogation began. We believe that there is sufficient evidence in the record to support this finding, based upon the test of arrest articulated above. We cannot say that a reasonable, innocent man, under like circumstances, would have had cause to believe himself arrested. Defendant went to the station voluntarily. He was aware that the police had tried to reach him that morning, knew where he was all day, but did not attempt to take him into custody. He was informed that the police wanted only to ask him questions about some burglaries. There were none of the procedures which the public associates with arrest — searching, booking, fingerprinting — which might, to an innocent man, have negated the statements of the police that he was simply being interrogated as a witness who, they had been told, could "shed some light" on the matter. (See Hicks v. United States (D.C. Cir. 1967), 382 F.2d 158, 162.) An innocent man could reasonably have concluded that the police viewed him as an important witness, and that they intended to, and expected to, elicit his cooperation. A reasonable, innocent man, however, would have been cognizant that this did not amount to arrest, in light of the total lack of compulsion by the police either in obtaining or retaining his presence at the station. "An assumption that one is required to cooperate with the police can hardly be equated with an arrest; every citizen has a duty to assist police officers up to the point of self-incrimination." Hicks v. United States (D.C. Cir. 1967), 382 F.2d 158, 161.

Having decided that a reasonable, innocent man would not have understood himself to be under arrest in this case, it is not necessary to our holding on this issue that we determine the intent of the officers. Nonetheless, we note that the manner in which defendant's presence was obtained, and the information the police had about defendant prior to interrogation, lends credence to the testimony of Officer Mahoney that defendant was not, in Mahoney's mind, under arrest at the time and that he could have left without police permission because there was "nothing to hold him for."

In summary, then, there is ample evidence to sustain the finding of the trial court that no arrest occurred when defendant entered the interrogation room. What actually took place here was no more than what was minimally necessary for the police to successfully investigate a crime, as is their duty. They were informed that a certain individual might have some knowledge about two burglaries. They asked this individual to come to the station so that they could question him about the burglaries. To hold that this amounted to an arrest would be to hold that virtually any station-house interrogation is necessarily so custodial as to indicate that the person questioned has been placed under arrest. This would mean that the police could not request the presence of anyone, even for non-custodial questioning, unless and until they had probable cause to arrest the person to be questioned. We see no reason to so restrict the investigatory function of the police.

The next issue we must consider concerns the warnings to defendant of his Miranda rights, and his waiver of those rights. While the majority of the appellate court implicitly found that defendant, though not arrested, was the subject of custodial interrogation, the dissenting justice contended that there is no such thing as "an interim stage of custodial non-arrest" (37 Ill. App.3d 400, 406). His assessment of this case was that defendant was in custody and was therefore under arrest. We believe, however, that both the assessment of the dissent ...

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