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05/10/88 the People of the State of v. Stephen M. Bates

May 10, 1988





523 N.E.2d 675, 169 Ill. App. 3d 218, 119 Ill. Dec. 919 1988.IL.721

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Monroe County; the Hon. Dennis Jacobsen, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE KARNS delivered the opinion of the court. WELCH and LEWIS, JJ., concur.


Following a stipulated bench trial in the circuit court of Monroe County, defendant, Stephen M. Bates, was convicted of reckless homicide and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals his conviction, arguing that statements made in the hospital to an investigating police officer should have been suppressed and that the results of a blood test taken at the hospital should not have been allowed into evidence. We affirm.

At approximately 1 a.m. on July 22, 1984, an accident occurred in the westbound lane of U.S. Bypass 50 about one-tenth of a mile east of Jefferson Barracks Bridge. Defendant, going east, crossed the center line and hit head on a car going west, driven by Elmer Neuhaus. Mrs. Neuhaus, one of three passengers in the car, died in the accident. Witnesses, who were driving eastbound on I-270 in St. Louis shortly before the accident, testified they saw a car swerving in their lane hitting construction barrels, and after crossing Jefferson Barracks Bridge, swerve into the westbound lane striking another car.

Defendant was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Louis for treatment of injuries received in the accident. There he was given a blood test which revealed the alcohol content of his blood to be .237.

At approximately 2:30 a.m. the same morning, an Illinois State trooper in charge of investigating the accident arrived at the hospital to talk to defendant. Because of the nature of defendant's injuries, the trooper was not allowed to speak with him until 6:12 a.m. The trooper, in the presence of two nurses, asked defendant what had happened. Defendant answered he was driving eastbound before the accident and that the only thing he could remember was his car rolling over. The trooper, who, after viewing the accident scene, believed the point of impact was in the westbound lane, issued defendant a traffic citation for improper lane usage and then left.

Defendant argues on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statements made to the trooper while he was in the hospital. Defendant believes his statements should not have been admitted at his stipulated bench trial because they were taken in violation of his constitutional rights as set forth in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602. Specifically, defendant contends the trooper failed to give him Miranda warnings before questioning him while in custody, and additionally, his statements were involuntarily elicited from him as a direct result of physical or mental coercion. Defendant, however, mischaracterizes the trooper's actions and the circumstances surrounding the giving of his statements.

The trooper investigating the accident went to the hospital approximately an hour after the accident to get a description of what happened from each of the drivers. Some four hours later the trooper was permitted to talk briefly with defendant. Admittedly, he did not advise defendant of his constitutional rights prior to questioning him. But, such is a requirement only when an individual has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444, 16 L. Ed. 2d at 706, 86 S. Ct. at 1612. See also People v. Kenning (1982), 110 Ill. App. 3d 679, 683-84, 442 N.E.2d 1337, 1340.

In order to determine whether an interrogation is custodial in nature, thereby necessitating the giving of Miranda warnings, a court must look to several factors: (1) the place of the interrogation; (2) statements or nonverbal conduct indicating that the accused is not free to leave; (3) the extent of the knowledge of the police officers and the focus of their investigation; (4) the intentions of the officers; and (5) the objective circumstances surrounding the investigation to determine what a reasonable man innocent of any crime would perceive. (People v. Hendricks (1986), 145 Ill. App. 3d 71, 113, 495 N.E.2d 85, 114; People v. Romano (1985), 139 Ill. App. 3d 999, 1009, 487 N.E.2d 785, 792. See also People v. Gale (1979), 72 Ill. App. 3d 23, 25-26, 390 N.E.2d 921, 923, cert. denied (1980), 445 U.S. 944, 63 L. Ed. 2d 778, 100 S. Ct. 1341.) Applying these factors here, it is clear that defendant was not in custody when questioned by the trooper in St. Anthony's Hospital.

Questioning which occurs in a hospital does not amount in itself to custodial interrogation. (Romano, 139 Ill. App. 3d at 1010, 487 N.E.2d at 793.) This does not mean that such questioning under certain circumstances never can amount to custodial interrogation. (See People v. Braun (1968), 98 Ill. App. 2d 5, 6-7, 241 N.E.2d 25, 26.) Those circumstances, however, simply do not exist here. Defendant's freedom of action was not restricted by the State. The investigating trooper never informed defendant he was not free to leave the hospital or that he was under arrest. Defendant was being treated in a Missouri hospital. The trooper had no arrest powers outside Illinois. Obviously, he did not consider defendant to be in custody during his questioning. The hospital staff was not instructed to restrain him or to notify the police when he was released. And, defendant was being treated in the emergency room just as any other patient in his condition would have been. Even the traffic citation which the trooper issued after talking with defendant was merely left with his personal belongings instead of being given directly to defendant. Clearly, defendant's freedom was not restricted by the police to an extent implicating custodial interrogation. See Romano, 139 Ill. App. 3d at 1010-11, 487 N.E.2d at 793-94.

Defendant argues the trooper believed he was at fault when he was questioned at the hospital, therefore the investigation was focused on him. The trooper, however, went to the hospital to question both drivers. He did not know which direction defendant was driving prior to the accident, and it was not until after speaking with defendant that he determined defendant crossed the center line. Only then was a traffic citation issued. The trooper was not even aware that defendant had been driving under the influence of alcohol until talking to other witnesses sometime after questioning defendant. Moreover, Miranda warnings are not ...

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